RCMP believe two suspects in B.C. murders are still near Gillam, Man.
Published Thursday, July 25, 2019 9:40AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 25, 2019 8:37PM EDT
Two teenage suspects wanted in a nationwide manhunt in connection with three murders in British Columbia have been spotted twice near a remote northern Manitoba town, and investigators believe the suspects are hiding out in the nearby wilderness.
- More coverage from CTV News Vancouver
- More coverage from CTV News Winnipeg
- Interactive map and timeline of northern B.C. deaths
RCMP said they’ve received two “corroborated” sightings of Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, in the area of Gillam, Man., a small community of 1,200 people more than 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Investigators are now combing through the dense woodlands near the town by air and foot as they search potential areas of interest.
“At this point in the investigation, we believe they are still in the area,” Cpl. Julie Courchaine said in a press conference on Thursday.
The most recent sighting was made Monday before a burned-out SUV linked to the suspects was discovered near the town. Police have not received any reports of stolen vehicles that could be attributed to the suspects, which suggests that the teenagers may have fled on foot.
Rough terrain is making the search difficult, Courchaine said.
“This is very challenging terrain. This is a large area. There’s lots of dense bush, forests, swampy areas,” she said, adding that RCMP have received more than 80 tips in the last 48 hours.
The two teenagers are each wanted on Canada-wide warrants for second-degree murder in connection with the death of Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old University of British Columbia lecturer. They are also considered suspects in the deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, whose bodies were found on a northern B.C. highway.
RCMP have deployed an armoured Tactical Assault Vehicle (TAV) and set up a checkpoint on the only road in and out of Gillam. At the only junction in town, CTV News Winnipeg’s Jeff Keele said officers were inspecting every vehicle passing through.
Schmegelsky’s father said he expects police will catch up with his son soon. Alan Schmegelsky said he believes his son is currently on a “suicide mission” and he will die in a confrontation with police.
“He’s going to be dead today or tomorrow,” he told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “Rest in peace, Bryer. I love you. I’m so sorry all this had to happen. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t rescue you.”
The father told the Canadian Press Thursday that his son was excited about Nazi artifacts during a trip to an army surplus store about eight months ago. Alan Schmegelsky said he doesn’t think his son is a Nazi sympathizer, but admitted that the teenager did find Nazi memorabilia “cool.”
"I was disgusted and dragged him out," Schmegelsky said, recalling the trip. "My grandparents fled the Ukraine with three small children during the Second World War."
CP also reported that Bryer Schmegelsky sent photos of a swastika armband and a Hitler Youth knife to a friend online.
However, the father does not think that his son is a Nazi sympathizer because he incorrectly believes he has Russian heritage – a mistaken belief that came from being estranged from his father as a child.
"He thought he was Russian. Germans are their enemies," he said.
Schmegelsky added that his son watches Russian rap videos and supports Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.
NEGOTIATOR CALLED IN
In hopes of preventing any more deaths, a crisis negotiation team has been deployed to speak with the suspects if they are located. Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, a senior media relations officer with the B.C. RCMP, said the negotiator will work to bring the investigation “to a successful resolution.”
“We don’t want anyone else to be hurt here, including Kam or Bryer. We want the opportunity for them to face a fair judicial process,” she said.
If the two teenagers are indeed hiding out in the wilderness, they will have a hard time eluding authorities, according to former RCMP deputy commission Peter German.
“Time is actually on the side of the police at this point because these fellows are not prepared for what they’re experiencing if they are in the woods,” German told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
“The Mounties up in that area of the country know that country as well, and they’re familiar with all the rigours that are presented by the bush. These two young fellows are not.”
German added that RCMP must have “very good information” to be deploying so many resources near Gillam.
“One would hope that these young fellows would simply give themselves up at this point and no harm would come to them or to the police or public,” he said.
“No police officer wants to kill somebody or be put in that position.”
SUSPECTS FACE ‘BRUTAL TERRAIN’
It’s hard to overstate just how challenging it is to navigate the wilderness outside Gillam, according to retired Manitoba RCMP officer Sherry Benson-Podolchuk.
“If they’re not in a vehicle then they have to be on foot, and that must be pretty brutal for them. They don’t have the training, they don’t have all the equipment that you would need to survive for several days without food or water,” she said, adding that she thinks the tough conditions could be enough to wear the suspects out.
“There’s no path. You’re getting branches in the face, you’re stepping over rocks and uneven terrain, so you could twist or hurt your ankle … So just walking would be difficult for anybody, let alone someone who is fleeing the scene and those who are in hot pursuit of the suspects. Very difficult.”
Billy Beardy first spotted the burning 2011 Toyota Rav4 on Monday evening while he was out picking strawberries with his wife. He said he noticed some camping equipment in the vehicle, which has led police to believe that the suspects may be hiding out in the area’s dense woods.
Gillam’s mayor, Dwayne Forman, said the conditions will be difficult for the suspects and the officers searching for them.
“They’re up against some brutal terrain. It’s a swamp, heavy treed area. The insects are atrocious through swamps,” he said. “I would be extremely surprised if they could survive a long duration up here.”
Keele described the area outside of Gillam as “very remote” with lots of trees and gravel roads.
“Police, right now, are potentially looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.
Clint Sawchuk, the owner and operator of Nelson River Adventures, a tour company in the area, said the teenagers are up against dense bush, temperature swings, waist-high swamp water, moss, bugs, and animals, such as black bears and wolves.
“It’s tough going up here,” he said. “If they don’t have bug jackets, once that sun goes down the bugs are out like crazy, enough to drive you insane.”
If the pair attempts to travel northeast to the coast of Hudson Bay, Sawchuk said they may have to contend with polar bears.
MURDER CHARGES LAID
McLeod and Schmegelsky set off a nationwide manhunt earlier this week after RCMP named them as suspects in the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24. Their bodies were discovered on a remote section of the Alaska Highway in B.C. on July 15.
On Wednesday, RCMP announced that McLeod and Schmegelsky each face charges of second-degree murder in the death of a 64-year-old Vancouver man identified as Leonard Dyck, whose body was found approximately 470 kilometres southwest of Fowler and Deese’s bodies.
Police said Dyck’s body was found on July 19 at a highway pullout located about two kilometres south of a vehicle fire on Highway 37, just south of Stikine River Bridge. The burning camper truck belonged to McLeod and Schmegelsky, according to investigators.
From there, the teenagers travelled east where they were captured by surveillance cameras in a grocery store in northern Saskatchewan on Sunday. They were seen driving the 2011 Toyota RAV4 at the time.
Two days later, the town of Gillam was put on high alert after RCMP there announced that the suspects may be in the area.
“People here are nervous and they’re on edge, obviously, the longer this goes on,” Keele reported on Thursday. “Especially, after yesterday’s confirmation that that vehicle was the one used by the suspects. That means that they were here in this area and could still be.”
Mark Mendelson, a former Toronto homicide detective, said he expects the suspects will be tracked down soon. He said it’s unlikely the teenagers will be able to last long in the inhospitable bush if that’s where they’re hiding. If they’re still in or near the town, Mendelson said someone is bound to spot them.
“I’m sure they know that they’re wanted and everybody out there is very much alive to what’s going on,” he told CTV’s Your Morning. “It won’t be long before they’re located. It’s just a matter of which condition they’ll be located in.”
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale reassured the public that police were on the case.
“Canadians can have absolute confidence that every tool and technique necessary to keep Canadians safe is being applied in this case as it is applied in every case,” he said during an event in Regina.
“Police services across the country are on the alert to lend assistance and support to the effort to make sure that they are captured and dealt with according to law at the earliest possible moment.”
Goodale also urged people not to intervene if they spot the suspects and to call their local police instead.