Bodies found in northern Manitoba believed to be 2 B.C. fugitives
Autopsies scheduled in Winnipeg to confirm identities, say police
RCMP believe they have found the bodies of B.C. fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky in northern Manitoba, ending a lengthy cross-Canada search for the suspects in three killings that gripped the world.
The remains of two men were found Wednesday at around 10 a.m local time in dense brush, eight kilometres northeast of where a burnt-out Toyota RAV4, which police believe the two fugitives were driving, was found.
"At this time, we believe that these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia," said Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP.
Autopsies in Winnipeg on Thursday will determine, conclusively, the identities of the bodies and causes of death, the RCMP said.
Police were seen loading caskets onto an RCMP plane in Gillam Wednesday evening.
McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, whose 19th birthday was Aug. 4, are suspects in three homicides in northern British Columbia.
The pair were charged July 24 with second-degree murder in the death of botanist Leonard Dyck. The 64-year-old was found dead July 19 at a highway pullout about two kilometres from a burnt-out camper truck — believed to be driven by McLeod and Schmegelsky — south of the B.C.'s Stikine River Bridge on Highway 37.
The lifelong friends are also suspected of gunning down a young couple, Lucas Fowler, 23, an Australian, and Chynna Deese, 24, an American. Their bodies were found on Alaska Highway, south of Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.
MacLatchy said she hopes Wednesday's announcement brings closure.
"I know it has been so very difficult," she said.
Sheila Deese, the mother of Chynna Deese, declined to speak with CBC News about the RCMP's discovery Wednesday, saying she is "speechless."
Over the course of 16 days, RCMP scoured more than 11,000 square kilometres in northern Manitoba — an area about twice the size of P.E.I. — and logged more than 4,500 hours during the search.
Officers, with help from the military, searched from the air, by boat, underwater, through spongy, wet muskeg and amid dense scrub, teeming with insects.
The two men considered themselves survivalists, Schmegelsky's father told Victoria's CHEK News. But locals warned that the remote area was treacherous, home to bears, and impossible for someone without local knowledge to navigate.
For nearly two weeks, the key evidence tracing the two suspects to the area was a confirmed sighting of the pair on July 22 and the burnt remains of the Toyota SUV, which was found the same day in Fox Lake Cree Nation, on a dead-end road into Manitoba's north. On Wednesday, the RCMP confirmed the vehicle belonged to Dyck.
As concerns about the two men spread, places like Sudbury, Ont., and Kapuskasing, Ont., reported alleged sightings. RCMP received more than 1,000 tips.
Search crews in Manitoba briefly shifted focus to York Landing, Man., on July 28 after a volunteer with the Bear Clan reported seeing them near the dump. The tip led nowhere.
The hunt spanned four provinces and more than 2,000 kilometres, with the fugitives choosing remote, isolated routes to evade detection.
"This is like travelling from London to Moscow, to put things in perspective," said B.C. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett.
Hackett called it one of the most unpredictable investigations he's had in recent years.
On July 31, after nine days without a trace of the two men, the RCMP announced they were scaling down the search.
But as MacLatchy noted on Wednesday, they didn't stop looking.
"We knew we needed just to find that one piece of evidence," she said.
Two days later, on Friday, police got a break. A damaged boat and several personal items linked to the fugitives were found along the Nelson River which flows north between Gillam and Fox Lake and eventually empties into Hudson Bay.
"Following this discovery, we were at last able to narrow down the search," said MacLatchy.
Clint Sawchuk, owner of Nelson River Adventures, thinks he might have helped draw RCMP attention to the wide, fast-moving river that powers several hydro-electric dams.
He spotted what appeared to be a sleeping bag caught in willows and reported it to the RCMP. He believes the Mounties spotted the boat as they flew by helicopter to investigate.
"I'm very happy it's over and they found them," he said.
Across northern Manitoba, there was a sigh of relief following news of the discovery. Throughout the hunt, RCMP had repeatedly warned the public they believed McLeod and Schmegelsky were armed and dangerous.
Residents had locked doors and travelled in groups while the men were considered at large.
"[I'm feeling] just a sense of relief for all communities involved in the north here … knowing that we don't have to be concerned about the presence of these individuals any longer," said Dwayne Forman, mayor of Gillam.
In Fox Lake Cree Nation, the community where police believe McLeod and Schmegelsky abandoned the RAV4, was grateful that the search is over.
"It comes with huge relief to the community of Fox Lake Cree Nation that this ordeal may finally be coming to a conclusion," said Chief Walter Spence.
John Peters, a resident of Fox Lake Cree Nation, said there are feelings of relief in his community — but also a sense of sadness.
"I can't speak for anyone else but I feel this ending is tragic," he said.
"It will feel nice to get back into the bush, though, without feeling I need to always be on the lookout, that tension will be gone."
Spence and Forman plan to hold community meetings to discuss "post-traumatic effects" the search had, said Spence.
Meanwhile, RCMP in British Columbia said late Wednesday the investigation is not over.
"We still need to ensure that our investigative findings… eliminates any other possibilities or suspects," said Hackett.
Police said it's difficult to guess what may have been the motive behind the three killings — and it may now be impossible to determine that if the bodies are indeed those of the two men.
- An earlier version of this story said Bryer Schmegelsky's birthday was Aug. 5 when in fact, according to a self-published book by his father Alan Schmegelsky, he was born Aug. 4, 2000.Aug 08, 2019 3:42 PM CT
With files from Ahmar Khan, Erin Brohman, Dana Hatherly, Bartley Kives, and Austin Grabish