RCMP officers in British Columbia confirmed Monday that the remains found in Northern Manitoba were indeed the bodies of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod and that the two murder suspects died by suicide through self-inflicted gunfire.
Officers say the two suspects had been dead for several days before they were found at approximately 10 a.m. on Aug. 7, though their exact date and time of death is not known.
The RCMP added, however, that there are “strong indications” the two suspects were alive for a few days since they had last been seen -- and were alive during the manhunt in Gillam, Man.
Linda Gillis Davidson, a retired RCMP inspector, told CTV News Channel she was “not surprised” to hear the two suspects had died by suicide.
“They had nowhere to go, nothing left for them to get involved with and it was just the state of mind,” she said. “I think the enormity of it had settled in.”
The bodies were found in an area of “dense brush” about a kilometre from where some items directly linked to the suspects had been previously found and eight kilometres from where a burned-out SUV connected to the pair had been found on July 22.
Schmegelsky and McLeod, childhood friends from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, had originally told family that they were heading to Yukon in search of work as their current jobs at Walmart weren’t fulfilling.
Peter German, former RCMP deputy commissioner, said the fact both men died by suicide shows how close the two had become.
“That also would appear to indicate that the two remained colleagues or friends until the end and decided for whatever reason to end their lives,” he said.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions told The Canadian Press in a statement that the town would continue to offer what it could to police in order to help with the case.
"There may never be enough information to adequately answer all of their questions, but our council remains committed to supporting the RCMP as they complete their investigation into what led to this tragic series of events,” she said.
Minions added residents of the Alberni Valley have several resources at their disposal if they’ve been affected by the case.
"I encourage anyone struggling at this time to take advantage of the services," she said.
Officers announced on Monday they also found a pair of firearms near the bodies. They are working to confirm whether the guns are connected to the murders.
“We now know how dangerous this manhunt was for the police, because clearly these individuals were armed right up until the end and the police were searching, no doubt, very close by these armed fugitives,” German said.
Davidson said she thinks it’s “highly likely” the two firearms are those connected to the three murders.
“(The guns) worked well for them to achieve what they did out west and they carried them with them, both for protection and for aggressiveness should they run into a situation where they needed to use them again,” she said.
The two suspects had evaded police for more than a week after they were identified as suspects in the shooting deaths of a 23-year-old Lucas Fowler and his 24-year-old girlfriend Chynna Deese on a remote portion of a highway in northern B.C. last month.
Four days later, the body of 64-year-old Leonard Dyck, a professor at the University of British Columbia, was found in an area near a burned out camper van belonging to Schmegelsky and McLeod.
Police formally charged Schmegelsky and McLeod with the second-degree murder of Dyck, while they were considered suspects in deaths of Deese and Fowler.
In light of the suspects’ deaths, a spokesperson for the BC Prosecution Service said in an email to The Canadian Press that the charge will not proceed.
"We anticipate that the charge will be abated once the (prosecution service) receives official confirmation that the accused is deceased. That will conclude the prosecution," said Dan McLaughlin.
Following the discovery of the burned-out SUV outside of Gillam on July 22, the RCMP began an intense, three-week manhunt involving local police forces from across the country, as well as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, armoured vehicles, drones, K9 units, ATVs, boats, and several aircraft, both military and civilian.
The search spanned several provinces, including 11,000 square kilometres of dense northern Manitoba wilderness and more than 500 homes in Gillam, Man. and the nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation.
Officers finally received a break in the case when they found a damaged boat along the shores of the Nelson River last week. Officers found several items connected to the two suspects near the boat that same day and eventually found the bodies nearby a few days later.
British Columbia RCMP plan to release the review to the public in the coming weeks and after the families are provided with the update.
“Investigators are now assessing all items located in Manitoba, along with the previous findings related to the three northern BC homicide investigations, in order to gain more clarity into what happened to Leonard Dyck, Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese,” the RCMP wrote in the release.
“The assessment will review all the investigative findings to date, whether it is statements, evidentiary time lines, physical or digital evidence, and the BC RCMP have also have engaged our Behavioural Analysis Unit.”
With questions surrounding the motive and the decision to drive across the country to northern Manitoba, German said he expects the police to address at least some of the remaining mysteries in their upcoming review.
“One would hope that the police will – as much as possible – indicate what the motive is,” he said. “In all likelihood, we’re not going to get all those answers, but who knows what the trails is that they left behind.”
With files from The Canadian Press