Someone may have 'inadvertently' helped two suspects leave Gillam, Man. area: RCMP
Police say someone may have unknowingly helped two teenage suspects wanted in connection with three murders in B.C. flee a remote area of northern Manitoba where investigators had narrowed their search.
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While the hunt for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, continues near Gillam, Man., RCMP are now urging anyone who may have “inadvertently” helped the suspects to come forward.
“It is possible that someone may not have been aware of who they were providing assistance to, and may now be hesitant to come forward. I want to reiterate the importance of contacting police immediately,” Cpl. Julie Courchaine said in a press conference Friday, one day after investigators said they believed the suspects were hiding out in the nearby wilderness.
Police also released previously captured surveillance footage of the suspects in hopes that it will help people identify them. Officials say “all Canadians” should be on watch for the fugitives.
Over the past week, heavily armed police officers from across Canada have descended on the Manitoba community in search of McLeod and Schmegelsky. The childhood friends from Port Alberni, B.C. each face a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old Vancouver man. They are also considered suspects in the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, whose bodies were found on the side of a highway in northern B.C.
Since fleeing across Canada in a stolen SUV, the two suspects may have changed their appearances, Courchaine said.
“It is critical that all Canadians remain vigilant for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky. If they are spotted, do not approach, call 9-1-1 or your local police immediately,” Courchaine said.
New surveillance footage released Friday shows the two suspects walking through a store in Meadow Lake, Sask., where they were spotted before arriving in Gillam. Schmegelsky is seen wearing camouflage military fatigues, while McLeod is wearing a T-shirt with a fictional character from an H.P. Lovecraft story.
Late Friday, RCMP confirmed another sighting. A man from Cold Lake, Alta. told police that he helped the two suspects on Sunday morning after their vehicle, which matched the description of the stolen SUV, became stuck near his property.
RCMP described the interaction as brief and “unremarkable.” Once the vehicle was unstuck, the pair carried on their way.
The man, who police did not identify, said he didn’t recognize the suspects until later that evening when he was on social media.
Police continue to search what they call “high probability areas of interest” by both air and foot in the remote Manitoba community more than 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Officers with specialized wilderness training have been brought in along with a helicopter, K9 unit and a crisis negotiation team.
Canadian Armed Forces aircraft have been approved to help with the vast search following a request from RCMP, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed Friday.
The thick brush has made those efforts challenging, Courchaine said.
“It’s tough terrain up there. Our officers are searching in kilometres into dense forest, muskeg and all that,” she said.
The search has expanded to abandoned construction sites and buildings. Over the weekend, officers will knock on doors in Gillam and nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation in hopes of generating tips.
The most recent confirmed sighting of the suspects was Monday, just hours before the stolen SUV was found burned out.
In the last few days, RCMP have received more than 120 tips, which they continue to review. Police are encouraging the public to reach out with any information they may have before sharing possible tips on social media.
“If you have some information, send it to us so we can confirm it. Don’t start spreading things that aren’t verified. We are going to confirm details as much as we can throughout the investigation, so let us be the trusted source where you get that information,” Courchaine said.
FATHER SPEAKS OUT
In an interview with CTV Vancouver Island on Friday, Bryer Schmegelsky’s father, Alan Schmegelsky, said that his son has been mistreated and described the entire situation as “preventable.”
“When you treat people like garbage, bad things can happen … that’s how my son was treated,” Alan Schmegelsky said.
He added that his son has never been off the island and does not know how to drive. He also voiced frustration with RCMP, who he says have not spoken with him since the investigation began.
Earlier this week, Schmegelsky told the Canadian Press that his son was interested in Nazi artifacts and that he feared Bryer was on a “suicide mission” that would end in a police shootout.
Keith McLeod, Kam’s father, has described his son as a “kind, considerate, caring young man” who has always “been concerned about other people’s feelings.”
The two suspects were initially listed as missing persons and were thought to be travelling to the Yukon in search of work. RCMP named the two young men suspects on Tuesday following tips they received from the public.
COMMUNITY IN FEAR
Residents of Gillam have been on edge for four days as uniformed officers continue to patrol the area and search vehicles at a checkpoint on the only road in and out of town.
Members of the community have told CTV News they’re locking their doors and securing their vehicles – something they never had to do in the past. One man told CTV News Winnipeg’s Jeff Keele that he’s been sleeping on his couch with his gun beside him out of concern for his safety.
“The community remains vigilant and on edge,” Keele reported on Friday morning. “This is still ongoing. Think if you live here, this is what you’re living with right now.”
Dennis Champagne, a resident of Gillam for more than 50 years, said he is struggling to sleep at night.
“I got grandkids and everything in town here too, and we’re all a little bit freaked out,” he said. “We’re all a little bit jittery.”
But some residents are adjusting to the heavy police presence. Karen Donnellan-Fisher, general manager of the town’s only gas station and grocery store, said some of her employees were concerned about coming to work earlier this week, but that initial apprehension has worn off.
“The only difference I think is that people are locking their doors at night and during the day,” she said.
SUSPECTS WANTED ON CANADA-WIDE WARRANTS
On Thursday, an RCMP tactical assault vehicle (TAV) rolled into town to aid in the search. Keele witnessed the armoured vehicle head towards the wilderness along with K9 units and groups of heavily armed officers later in the day. Police have also employed a helicopter and unmanned drone for an aerial view of the thick bush where the two suspects may be hiding.
If they are trekking through the wilderness, authorities and residents said they will have a tough time of it as the terrain is considered difficult to navigate for even those who are familiar with it.
Gillam’s mayor, Dwayne Forman, said the pesky sandflies will also be a major concern for anyone spending an extended amount of time in the woods without proper protective gear.
“The insects are atrocious through swamps,” he said on Thursday.
McLeod and Schmegelsky have been charged with 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.
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.