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RCMP search for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, two teenage fugitives wanted in the murders of three people, near Gillam, Manitoba, July 27, 2019.
Teen fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky (left) and Kam McLeod in undated CCTV images taken in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.
A polar bear spotted from an RCMP helicopter during the manhunt for murder suspects Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18 near Gillam, Manitoba.
The RCMP is scaling back its search of Manitoba’s rugged northern hinterland for two teenaged murder suspects, conceding that a large dragnet on the ground, air and water revealed no evidence of where the pair may be, how they got away or whether they are dead or alive.
“Over the last week we have done everything we can to locate the suspects,” said Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP, in a lengthy public update on the manhunt for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, last seen near the remote communities of Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation.
“We searched approximately 11,000 square kilometres in northern Manitoba.
“We searched rail lines, hydro corridors, lakes, rivers, vast areas of tundra and muskeg, dense forests and brush. We conducted exhaustive searches on foot, with dogs and all-terrain vehicles. We used boats on lakes and searched from the air with drones, helicopters and planes.
“We used some of the most advanced technologies available and received assistance from some of the most highly skilled search and rescue personnel in the country.”
Despite the efforts, including Canadian military aircraft, police seem no further ahead in finding the pair, suspected in the murder of three people in northern British Columbia: Chynna Deese, 24, and Lucas Fowler, 23, a couple on a road trip across Canada, she from the United States and he from Australia; and Leonard Dyck, 64, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia.
MacLatchy asked everyone, wherever they are, to remain alert and on the lookout for McLeod and Schmegelsky and to call police with any information of possible sightings.
The public is doing just that. Late Wednesday, the Ontario Provincial Police were investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle with two young men inside spotted in a construction zone in Kapuskasking, a town almost 1,000 kilometres north of Toronto and a circuitous 2,350-kilometre drive from Gillam.
“At this time the OPP cannot confirm the identity of the people in the vehicle that was occupied by two males. The OPP is continuing to investigate this incident and is actively looking for the vehicle,” the police force said in a statement.
It seems unlikely, but when you don’t know where someone is, it’s hard to say for certain where they aren’t.
“To be clear, we are not ending this search,” MacLatchy said, adding that RCMP officers will remain in the Gillam area to continue the search, despite there being no recent signs of the fugitives.
“I can’t say it is terribly surprising because it’s just a very tough place to find somebody who doesn’t want to be found,” she said.
While many experts agree, recognizing the difficult and dangerous terrain and suggesting the pair could be dead, either by suicide or misadventure in the wilderness, MacLatchy acknowledged that armchair quarterbacks are wondering how this could be.
“I think we’ve done everything we can, we’ve pulled out all the stops on this thing from the instant we found out about it,” she said, answering questions. “I have no regrets. I think we’ve done everything. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Without answers, questions and conspiracy theories are trying to fill the void and in some sense, there is a small, subtle shift towards something dangerously close to turning suspected killers into rogue folk heroes.
Citizens freely offer their own solutions, seen as a simple task from in front of their computers but without knowing whether police have already tried it. Why don’t they leave a pack of medical supplies in a cabin or a dead deer, both with trackers in them, a reader asked.
Some peddle the idea — without any evidence — the two are just fearful of being blamed for crimes they didn’t commit. Or that there is some other answer to the mystery of why they’re on the run.
Even the man who unwittingly helped them by pulling their stuck SUV out of the mud before they were named as murder suspects said he didn’t see how they could be cold-blooded killers.
“Can’t see those kids killing anyone,” Tommy Ste-Croix told his friends on Facebook after he spent 20 minutes towing them out and shaking their hands. “Honestly, I think something else happened. But I guess anyone is capable of murder.”
A resident of York Landing, near Gillam, where police searched after an unconfirmed sighting near the First Nation reserve, said people are amazed at the pair’s resilience, if they are still out there, saying, “they must know how to look after themselves.”
Some have suggested the pair pulled a fast one, driving into the dead-end of Gillam, burning the car they were known to be in and then high-tailing it back out before the search even began, in a pre-arranged plan to divert attention.
“This would make for a great movie,” said a Twitter user who urged the pair on.
On Reddit, a user wondered if the pair’s motive is to become “the next chapter in outlaw Canadiana lore.”
It’s happened before with fugitives.
In 2006, in western New York, escaped convict Ralph “Bucky” Phillips became something of a folk hero for evading police in bloody shootouts and narrow escapes. T-shirts and signs popped up declaring, “Run, Bucky, Run!” A song of the same name was released and a local restaurant even sold a “Bucky Burger” that was only available to go.
The same infatuation was absent for Allan Legere, known as the Monster of the Miramichi, during his frightening flight in New Brunswick for over seven months in 1989.
We’ve pulled out all the stops on this thing from the instant we found out about it
After a clever and daring escape from a hospital while serving time for murder, Legere committed four additional murders despite a large, intense search.
MacLatchy referenced the Legere manhunt when reporters asked her to compare this to other fugitive searches by the RCMP.
“From my own perspective as a 31-year veteran of the RCMP, I remember the times of the search for Allan Legere in the Miramichi area and those kind of things, but I can’t speak on how they compare. I’m not sure.”
It is not an experience anyone wants to repeat.
“I know that today’s news is not what the families of the victims and the communities of northern Manitoba wanted to hear,” said MacLatchy.
“We would really like to find these suspects. We would love to be able to contribute to getting justice for the families of the murder victims.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019