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 their search for two young murder suspects last seen in the region.
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- Interactive map and timeline of northern B.C. deaths
- Timeline of three B.C. murders
The majority of police resources in the vast search – which covered more than twice the size of Prince Edward Island – will be pulled from the area of Gillam, Man. over the coming week, RCMP confirmed Wednesday.
“I know that today's news is not what the families of the victims and the communities of northern Manitoba wanted to hear. But when searching for people in vast, remote and rugged locations, it is always a possibility that they are not immediately located,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy at a press conference.
But the search for Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, who are wanted in connection with three murders in British Columbia, is not over. RCMP will continue to review tips from the public while a smaller police presence remains in Gillam.
“I want to assure everyone that the RCMP is continuing to work on this investigation and will not stop until there is a resolution,” MacLatchy said.
Last week, police said it was possible that someone may have “inadvertently” helped the suspects leave the Gillam area after their stolen SUV was found burned-out near the town. Now, investigators say it’s possible that the two suspects are 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.
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.
The military aircraft and crew will return to base, but will remain available to help again if necessary.
Police searched the community of York Landing, about 90 kilometres from where the SUV was found, earlier this week after a potential sighting at a landfill on Sunday evening. Three witnesses said they spotted two men matching the suspects’ descriptions 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 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.
McLeod and Schmegelsky, who are 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 buggy terrain near Gillam.
“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.