False alarm: Online photo not B.C. fugitive, Mounties warn against spreading rumours

A man bearing an uncanny resemblance to B.C. fugitive Kam McLeod, shown in a photo posing with a copy of Thursday’s Winnipeg Sun, is not the murder suspect, police confirm.

Photo shared on social media shows man resembling Kam McLeod

This viral photo began circulating on social media, leading some to believe it showed B.C. fugitive Kam McLeod posing with his picture on the front page of Thursday's Winnipeg Sun. The origin of the photo is unclear, but RCMP have confirmed the man holding the newspaper is not McLeod. (Twitter)

A man bearing an uncanny resemblance to B.C. fugitive Kam McLeod, shown in a photo posing with a copy of Thursday's Winnipeg Sun, is not the alleged killer, police confirmed.

In the photo that has circulated on social media, a smiling man holds the front page of the newspaper, displaying side-by-side images of McLeod, 19, and his co-accused, Bryer Schmegelsky, 18. The man in the photo appears to be in a wooded area, and a vehicle can be seen in the background. 

McLeod and Schmegelsky are wanted in connection with the deaths of three people in B.C. last week. A burnt-out car driven by the pair was found near Gillam, Man., and police have been conducting an extensive ground search for them in the surrounding wilderness for several days. 

RCMP confirmed the man in the photo is not McLeod in a tweet Friday morning, and at a news conference later in the day, spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine said police had made contact with the person in the photo.

"It does appear to be an instance where a photo was taken and then ended up being unintentionally circulated on social media," she said.

Courchaine warned against sharing anything other than confirmed facts related to the search. 

"The spreading of false information in communities across Manitoba has created fear and panic," she said. 

Kam McLeod, left, and Bryer Schmegelsky, right, from Port Alberni, B.C., are suspects in the homicides of a young couple gunned down in northern B.C. in mid-July as well as in the suspicious death of another man whose body was found near the men's burnt-out truck days later. (B.C. RCMP/Alan Schmegelsky)

Schmegelsky and McLeod, from Port Alberni, B.C., are suspects in the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and American Chynna Deese, 24,  in northern B.C. last week. 

They have also been charged with second-degree murder of Leonard Dyck, a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia, whose body was found days later near Dease Lake.

No basis for rumours of Beausejour sighting: RCMP

On Thursday, social media posts began circulating claiming that the suspects had been spotted in Beausejour, Man., about 50 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Beausejour RCMP confirmed to CBC News that they hadn't received any reports of sightings in the area.

"Apparently, someone posted on Facebook that they heard a rumour that the suspects were in the area and the rumour spread, causing people to lock their doors and businesses to close," an RCMP spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"At this time, we don't believe there is any threat to public safety."

Also on Thursday, a vehicle with two men inside was involved in a "gas and dash" in Carberry, in southwestern Manitoba. Bluehills RCMP intercepted the vehicle, which was reported stolen in Beausejour.

A 26-year-old man from Winnipeg was arrested and charged with multiple offences.

Gillam residents remain on edge

The search for the two men continued near Gillam on Friday. The weather was cold and sometimes rainy in the town 740 kilometres north of Winnipeg. 

Over the next 72 hours, police will start canvassing door-to-door in the town of Gillam and in Fox Lake Cree Nation, hoping to generate new tips.

Police are also exploring the possibility that someone may have inadvertently helped the suspects leave the area, although Courchaine stressed that their last confirmed sighting was in the Gillam area on Monday.

 "It is possible that someone may not have been aware of who they were providing assistance to, and may now be hesitant to come forward," Courchaine said, adding the suspects might have changed their appearance.

Foot patrols, checkstops, canine units and helicopters have all been brought in to help with the search. Police stopped a Via Rail train passing through the area, checking every car for any sign of the suspects. 

People living in the community want to see the suspects caught and the search operation ended as soon as possible, said Karen Donnellan-Fisher, manager of local Co-op gas station, which also serves as the town's only food and liquor store. 

This map shows the search area around Gillam, Man. (CBC)

"We wanted it to be over as soon as it started," she said.

The gas station changed its scheduling policies to ensure no one would be working alone at any time. 

"If somebody doesn't want to come to work because they're not comfortable with all that's going on — some people just don't feel safe leaving their house — then that's their prerogative and that's OK."

Despite the ongoing search, Donnellan-Fisher said the anxiety among the residents has diminished somewhat. People are still coming out and shopping at the store.

"The only difference is people are locking their doors, night and day," she said. 

With files from Angela Johnston