Locals on edge in Whiteshell as hunt intensifies for Manitoba homicide suspect Eric Wildman
Ontario Provincial Police, local law enforcement join RCMP in search for fugitive
The sighting of a fugitive in an eastern Manitoba community has some residents on edge as members of the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies continued their search Thursday.
Police fanned out across Whiteshell Provincial Park with police dogs and air services looking for Manitoba homicide suspect Eric Wildman.
Wildman was specifically spotted in the rural municipality of Whitemouth heading east toward the Manitoba-Ontario border.
"People are fearful of it, the ones I've talked to," said Walter Amerongen, reeve of the RM of Whitemouth.
"I'm just making sure that everyone stays cautious of the fact that he's out there and hopefully we get a report that he's captured soon."
RCMP tweeted Thursday morning that officers remain in the area and the public should expect a heavy police presence there.
Sgt. Laura LeDrew said RCMP are following up on numerous tips and combing the park.
Wildman, 34, is considered a risk to the public, and officers are worried that a rush of people heading to the Whiteshell this weekend could be an issue.
"It's a concern, absolutely, because there are going to be more people around. However, we are again ensuring that we are a police presence there and we are actively, actively searching for this man," LeDrew said.
Ontario Provincial Police say they have been engaged with the RCMP for two days.
"This is still an active RCMP [investigation], we do not know Mr. Wildman's whereabouts and have had no reports of him in Ontario at this time," OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said via email Thursday morning.
Wildman, 34, is wanted in connection with the disappearance and presumed death of his neighbour Clifford Joseph, 40. RCMP are treating Joseph's disappearance as a homicide.
Wildman and Joseph were neighbours in the rural municipality of St. Clements about 70 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Joseph was last seen leaving home in the morning of June 7. Police say his Ford Ranger truck was abandoned that day and recovered off Road 44 East, a rural area near Wildman's property.
Wildman has been a suspect since at least June 12, one day after investigators found his abandoned vehicle in East Kildonan in Winnipeg. Inside, they located police tactical gear, guns, police patches and other items resembling police uniforms.
Some of those details have drawn eerie comparisons with a Nova Scotia mass shooting in April 2020. The shooter in that case killed 22 people while dressed in a authentic police uniform and driving a RCMP cruiser replica.
He set fire to his cottage and three other homes before police shot and killed him at a gas station.
Amerongen told municipal staff this morning to make sure the doors were locked.
"We all know what happened in the East Coast," he said.
Sgt. LeDrew said people in her life are also concerned based on the parallels.
"My phone is blowing up because my family and friends are concerned," she said.
Wildman was driving a 2020 Chevy Equinox SUV, licence plate KGE 368, when he was last seen in the Whitemouth area, heading east on Highway 44 toward the Ontario border.
Border restrictions were lifted by the Ontario government on Wednesday. Previously, vehicles passing into Ontario were stopped by OPP officers who asked about the purpose of their visit before letting them in.
Whiteshell Provincial Park is vast, densely forested and has many trail systems, which could complicate search efforts.
"He could be anywhere," said Shaun Harbottle, owner of Crescent Beach Cottages at West Hawk Lake in the Whiteshell. "It's like a needle in a haystack."
Harbottle said there are a lot of people outside in the area right now, which could also make it more difficult to evade detection for long.
"It is a big area," he said. "There's lots of cottages, but there's also lots of people out because of COVID right now, so chances are high if he was down a cottage road somebody would see him."
RCMP also released images this week from surveillance footage taken last Friday in a Lowe's store on Panet Road in Winnipeg.
The images show Wildman walking into the store wearing shorts, a blue surgical mask and grey shirt. Another photo shows him shortly after leaving the store and arriving at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/rcmpmb?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#rcmpmb</a> releasing photos from June 11 of Eric Wildman at Lowe’s on Panet Rd before taking a cab to Wpg Int’l Airport where he enters the terminal & rents the 2020 Chevy Equinox. He was wearing shorts, t-shirt, white camo ball cap & surgical mask. Have info? Call 911 immediately <a href="https://t.co/POMIILJMRj">pic.twitter.com/POMIILJMRj</a>—@rcmpmb
RCMP said Wildman then took a cab to the airport, where he rented a grey 2020 Chevy Equinox.
On Tuesday, there were reported sightings around Lockport, Man.
Leona Henry, who has been camping at West Hawk Lake campground in the Whiteshell since Sunday, plans to leave Friday.
"Yesterday, I got a phone call and my mom warned me about this. … It's kind of scary," she said. "I hope the police catch this guy."
Wildman is considered armed and dangerous. Anyone who thinks they've spotted him or his vehicle is asked not to approach him and call 911 or the RCMP tip line 431-489-8551.
With files from Holly Caruk, Darren Bernhardt and Ian Froese