RCMP scale back search for B.C. murder suspects in Manitoba
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2019 7:38AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 31, 2019 9:38PM EDT
After scouring 11,000 square kilometres of dense Manitoba wilderness with police dogs, drones and a military plane equipped with infrared capabilities, the RCMP is winding down its search for two young murder suspects who police say may now be dead.
- More coverage from CTV News Winnipeg
- More coverage from CTV News Vancouver
- Interactive map and timeline of northern B.C. deaths
- Timeline of three B.C. murders
While the broader investigation continues, the majority of police resources will be pulled from the area of Gillam, Man. over the coming week, RCMP confirmed Wednesday.
"It's just a very tough place to find somebody who doesn't want to be found,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy at a press conference.
Last week, police said someone in the Gillam area may have “inadvertently” helped Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, who are wanted in connection with three murders in British Columbia, leave the area after a stolen SUV they drove across Canada was found burned-out near the town.
That’s still a possibility, but investigators say it’s also possible that the two suspects are now dead.
“The north part of the province is a very unforgiving place … very challenging terrain, lots of wildlife. We’re keeping all possibilities in mind as we go forward with this, but that (the suspects are dead) is just one of the possibilities we’re considering,” MacLatchy said.
Before winding down the search, police canvassed more than 500 homes near Gillam and scoured abandoned buildings and rail lines. Armoured vehicles, drones, K9 units, ATVs, boats, and several aircraft were sent in to help with the search, including a CC-130H Hercules military aircraft with high-tech thermal detection technology.
With the investigation in northern Manitoba scaling back, the military aircraft and crew will return to base but will remain available to help again if necessary.
Earlier this week police searched the community of York Landing, about 90 kilometres from where the burned-out SUV was found, after a potential sighting on Sunday evening. Three witnesses said they spotted two men matching the suspects’ descriptions at a landfill and that the two men ran into the woods after they realized they’d been spotted.
RCMP deemed the sighting “credible” and deployed police dogs, drones and officers to the community.
“And we ran that down as far as we could and we didn’t come up with anything. So we could not substantiate the tip,” MacLatchy said.
MacLatchy commended the team of officers who’ve searched the rugged, buggy Manitoba terrain over the past week, saying they’re “pulling out all the stops.”
“It’s been a long week and they’re working very hard in less than ideal situations, between the bugs and the swamps and the you-name-it. It’s difficult,” she said.
Gillam’s mayor, Dwayne Forman, said he expects police had enough information to make the decision to scale back the search.
“I would be shocked if they left before having some definitive proof that they were no longer in the area,” Forman told CTV News.
Some residents in the community are still shaken by the nationwide manhunt coming to town. Lorna Sinclair said she still doesn’t feel comfortable in Gillam.
“Nothing like this should’ve ever happened up here,” Sinclair said. “It’s just worrisome.”
SURVIVAL EXPERT: SUSPECTS LIKELY ‘PRETTY DESPERATE’
The longtime friends from Port Alberni, B.C. face charges of second-degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old lecturer at the University of British Columbia. They’re also wanted on Canada-wide warrants in connection with the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, whose bodies were found on the side of the Alaska Highway in northern B.C.
Dyck’s body was also discovered in northern B.C., some 470 kilometres southwest from where Fowler and Deese were killed, at a highway pullout not far from where a burning camper truck belonging to McLeod and Schmegelsky was abandoned.
The suspects were originally considered missing persons in connection with the deaths.
Schmegelsky’s father has said he believes his son may be on a “suicide mission” and intends to die in a shootout with police.
Authorities have repeatedly cautioned the public against approaching the suspects if they’re spotted. Instead, they’re asking anyone with information to call their local police force immediately.
Terry Grant, the star of the television series “Mantracker,” told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that the suspects are likely getting “pretty desperate” by now and would’ve had a tough time surviving the Manitoba wilderness.
“With the resources and the technology that the RCMP has out there and the number of people on the ground, I’m very surprised that there hasn’t been some definite sighting or [they] are captured by now,” he said.