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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 30, 2020
Social media is creating havoc for police in the massive cross-Canada manhunt for teenage murder suspects Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18.
Online speculation that the pair has crossed into Ontario from Manitoba has led to a host of calls to police reporting possible sightings in nine different towns in the province, including at a Tim Hortons restaurant in Timmins.
While police are encouraging people to continue calling in anything suspicious, Acting Sgt. Shona Camirand with the Ontario Provincial Police in North Bay said social media users are taking things too far.
“I got a call saying, ‘How come there’s helicopters?’ Well, there is no helicopters, and there’s other reports on social media that someone had been shot and it’s just been blown out of proportion,” she said.
Residents across the province are on high alert, dialling 911 in a frantic race to be the ones who help catch the triple murder suspects from Vancouver Island whose last confirmed location was in Gillam, Man., 10 days ago.
But with no trace of the fugitives since then, paranoia about the duo crossing provincial borders into Ontario has merged with the age of social media, leading to mass speculation online that has dominated police calls during the past 24 hours.
Marc Depatie, a communications co-ordinator with the Timmins Police Service, said a man believed he saw the fugitives at a Tim Hortons near the town centre on Wednesday.
“They called it in at 9:30 the next morning — 16 hours after the fact,” Depatie said.
Officers are working with the store’s owner to review surveillance footage to confirm if the individuals spotted were the two teenagers who have been the target of a nationwide manhunt since July 23.
Depatie said they had also received other calls, all of which were forwarded to the OPP.
Camirand said callers claim to have seen the fugitives in at least eight other Ontario towns including Kapuskasing, North Bay, Parry Sound, Sudbury, Cochrane, Sault Ste. Marie, West Nipissing and Wawa.
“We got a call in Kapuskasing and got a call at the same time from Sudbury,” she said. “Last night, we got a call in Cochrane and they turned out to be tree planters.”
“When we look at common sense, how far from Gillam to Kapuskasing … if they’re in a vehicle, they’re going to have to stop, they’re going to need gas,” Camirand said.
“The north-west region is a big place so to get through to the north-east region without getting caught, I can’t say where they are because no one knows.”
Despite receiving dozens of tips, Camirand said there was nothing new to report and no confirmed sightings in Ontario.
“This is all stemming from one post from someone who listens to the police scanners,” she added.
That post was about a suspicious vehicle driving through a construction zone on Highway 11 in Kapuskasing on Wednesday morning. It was first shared on Facebook, before being picked up by community groups online and eventually being reported to police.
The OPP have not confirmed the identity of the people in the vehicle or the validity of the report.
“Anytime people are seeing two scruffy males together, we’re getting a call — which is fine,” she said. “We’re following up on every call because, we’re the police, it’s our job.”
The case has sparked the creation of Facebook groups theorizing the suspects’ next moves while also prompting online trolls to emerge, teasing police and encouraging the teens to keep evading search efforts.
“My dear friends are smarter than you think. They’re always one step ahead of you all,” read one post from a Thomasabrahamutoyo, who appeared to be tweeting from overseas.
IDepatie, the Timmins dispatch co-ordinator, said the public needs to be careful with what they see online.
“That’s the speculative aspect of social media that allows for misinformation to be forwarded,” he said.
“The public should only be concerned with what comes from accredited news sources or a policing agency, anything other than that should be greeted with healthy skepticism.”
Depatie said officers were being briefed about McLeod and Schmegelsky at the start and end of every day.
In Sault Ste. Marie, Police Chief Hugh Stevenson did not confirm any investigation provoked by reports, but wrote in a statement to the National Post that officers are in “constant communication with the local OPP and RCMP detachments” and had “operational plans in place to collaborate with our law enforcement partners if they were to come into our community and participate in apprehending the suspects.”
Police say McLeod and Schmegelsky are suspected in the death of Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old University of British Columbia professor, whose body was found at Dease Lake, B.C., July 19.
They may also be connected to the deaths of Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, who were found dead on the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.
Regardless of where the suspects may be, police say the process is simple — don’t post tips to social media and call the police directly.
“Information is the lifeblood of any investigation,” Depatie said. “Anything that seems modestly suspicious should be reported so it can be investigated and its validity can be determined.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019