Fugitives likely still in Gillam, Man., area, RCMP says
2 confirmed sightings of Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18
- Lack of stolen vehicle suggests pair in hiding, police say.
- Heavily armed officers scouring bush, abandoned vehicles.
- Residents told to call 911 or local police if the pair is spotted.
The RCMP say they believe the two young men who are suspects in the homicides of a tourist couple in British Columbia, and who have been charged in a third, are still hiding in the rugged wilderness of northern Manitoba.
Police said Thursday there have been two confirmed sightings near Gillam, about 750 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, of Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18.
In addition, the RCMP said there have been no reports of stolen vehicles in the area, leading them to believe McLeod and Schmegelsky are holed up in the dense, swampy terrain.
The confirmed sightings occurred prior to the discovery of their burnt-out vehicle on Monday night, but RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine would offer no further details.
Police have enlisted help from across Western Canada to assist in the massive search around Gillam and nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation. They have received around 80 tips from the public in the last 48 hours, Courchaine said.
The normally secluded region has seen an influx of heavily armed police officers, wearing camouflage and inspecting every vehicle that goes in or out. The officers travel in packs, and were seen Thursday scouring the bush and abandoned buildings, concentrating around Fox Lake Cree Nation.
"We are taking all steps to be as thorough as we can, which is why we have so many resources," she said. "We're doing a lot of searches in and around that area."
McLeod and Schmegelsky are suspects in the double homicide of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and American Chynna Deese, 24, who were discovered shot to death along the side of the Alaska Highway, south of Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.
They are also charged with second-degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck, a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia.
Four days after Fowler and Deese's bodies were found, McLeod and Schmegelsky's burnt-out truck was discovered more than 470 kilometres away, near the community of Dease Lake, B.C.
Manitoba RCMP say their emergency response, crisis negotiation and air services teams, and a canine unit, are deployed to the region, along with RCMP North District resources. The RCMP major crime unit is involved, including other police departments from Western Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Courchaine wouldn't say how large the police presence is, nor the size of the area being searched.
She acknowledged the rough terrain complicates efforts.
"I think it's tough. It's challenging terrain. It's vast, it's dense," she said, but "the police officers that are up there are trained for these types of situations."
She said if the suspects are spotted, they should not be approached under any circumstances. People should instead call 911 immediately, or call local RCMP. The phone number for Gillam RCMP is 204-652-2200, while those in the Thompson, Man., area can call 204-677-6911.
Police are treating the lifelong friends, who were initially considered missing persons, as dangerous.
"As you can appreciate, this is a dynamic and unfolding situation," Courchaine told reporters. "I understand that people have many questions and we commit to providing answers as soon as we can."
Tough to hide
Residents say hiding in the wilderness isn't for the faint of heart, even though the pair, according to Schmegelsky's father, consider themselves survivalists.
Gillam is surrounded by thick bush, though there are cabins, cottages and abandoned hydro-electric buildings in the area, said lifelong resident Tanya Wavey, 40.
"They could break into one of those buildings and they could be hiding in there. It's scary," she said.
The pair will have to find paths — whether along power lines or hunting trails — to move through the area full of muskeg; swampy land full of rotting vegetation covered with moss.
"It's all muskeg, as far as I know," Wavey said. "It's soft, soft ground. You can break your ankle walking in that stuff, because you sink in probably about your knees."
There are lots of bears, but the first problem area residents mention is the bugs.
The conditions are "totally different from B.C., so if they came around here, they can throw their survival stuff out the window," Wavey said.
After sweltering, unseasonable temperatures near 30 C on Wednesday, Thursday's high only reached the mid-teens. There's a chance for thunderstorms Thursday night, but more likely in the days to come, said CBC meteorologist John Sauder.
"What is going to make conditions challenging for people who are searching is the wet weather that is moving in over the next three days, and the prolonged period of wet weather," Sauder said.
Both McLeod and Schmegelsky are described as six feet, four inches tall and around 169 pounds.
McLeod has dark brown hair, brown eyes and facial hair. Schmegelsky has sandy brown hair, but RCMP say the two may have changed their appearances.
Their families had said they were travelling to Whitehorse from their homes in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island in search of work.
Outside the region, town officials in Churchill, 270 kilometres north of Gillam, has opted to take precautions as well.
Mayor Mike Spence said the town is checking incoming trains for suspicious activity. He explained some residents are feeling anxious by the search, but officials don't believe the pair are near.
With files from Lara Schroeder, Austin Grabish