RCMP divers search Manitoba river after damaged boat found in hunt for B.C. fugitives
Police enlisting divers a few days after RCMP began withdrawing officers due to lack of leads
Divers spent hours Sunday afternoon searching a northern Manitoba river near the spot where a damaged aluminum boat washed up on shore, in hopes there may be clues to the whereabouts of two young men wanted in connection to three B.C. homicides.
Searchers on a helicopter spotted the rudimentary, silver boat on the shore of the Nelson River on Friday afternoon, RCMP said on Sunday.
Based on the discovery, five members of the Underwater Recovery Team were sent to "conduct a thorough underwater search of significant areas of interest today," the RCMP said in a news release.
The decision to enlist divers comes just days after the Mounties began winding down their search for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, who would turn 19 today, in the bush and swamp around Gillam, Man., where the last confirmed sighting occurred on July 22.
This is the damaged aluminum boat found by <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/rcmpmb?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#rcmpmb</a> officers on the shores of the Nelson River during a helicopter search on friday afternoon. <a href="https://t.co/56Ez8alVTs">pic.twitter.com/56Ez8alVTs</a>—@rcmpmb
In the early afternoon on Sunday, divers set off from a sloped patch of forested terrain hugging the Nelson River, hauling scuba tanks and settling into a boat before they departed. Meanwhile, a helicopter scoured the river from overhead.
The river is hundreds of metres wide and flows rapidly, powering several hydroelectric dams vital to the province.
The underwater search wrapped up around 5 p.m. CT.
RCMP have searched for the fugitives for 13 days. The trail for the suspects recently went cold because of a lack of new leads, but police insisted last week they weren't giving up.
RCMP said on Saturday night they would not disclose specifics about where their Underwater Recovery Team was searching.
The two men, childhood friends from Port Alberni, B.C., are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck, and are suspects in the killings of tourist couple Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese.
Gillam, a town of about 1,300, is located about 730 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
The Nelson River flows north from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay, and Gillam is located near its banks.
Before announcing last Wednesday that police were reducing their presence in the area, searchers were combing a rugged terrain that covered 11,000 square kilometres — about twice the size of P.E.I.
At the height of the pursuit, officers used aerial surveillance, drones and police dogs and canvassed every home and abandoned building, but no sightings of the fugitives have been confirmed since a burned-out Toyota RAV4 was found near Sundance Creek, northeast of Gillam, Man, on July 21. It is believed the pair were driving the vehicle.
Police said last week that ground and air searches would continue, but wouldn't be as robust as before. The Mounties said they would return to high probability areas, including some of the paths, cabins and hunting shacks they have already explored.
"In searching for people in vast, remote and rugged locations, it's always a possibility that they're not going to be immediately located," RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at the time.
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said on Sunday that residents are anxious for this countrywide hunt to come to a close with the suspects located.
"We need this to end so people can start to feel safe," he said.
"People in town are talking to me about walking by trailers and seeing that an entranceway … is open and they're afraid to go close to that, because they don't know," Forman said. "I don't want that in our community. I want them to feel secure."
- An earlier version of this story said Bryer Schmegelsky was 18 years old. The story has been updated to reflect the fact that Sunday, Aug. 4 was his 19th birthday.Aug 08, 2019 4:24 PM CT
With files from Angela Johnston, Samuel Rancourt