Access into the remote Manitoba town of Gillam has been closed as police attempt to flush out two suspected, B.C.-born killers as part of a nation-wide manhunt.
That manhunt led Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Wednesday to issue a public warning as Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, remain at large and wanted in the deaths of three people on Northern B.C. highways.
The two are suspects in the killings of American Chynna Deese, 24, and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, 23, on the Alaska Highway on July 15.
Four days after Deese and Fowler’s bodies were found, and 470 kilometres away, Dease Lake RCMP discovered a burning truck and camper belonging to McLeod and Schmegelsky, and the body of an unidentified man two kilometres away.
The SUV they were last seen driving was found torched and abandoned near Gillam on July 22, Manitoba RCMP said. Police continue their search, with an increasingly heavy presence in the area
"Based on this information, we have sent a number of resources to the Gillam area. There will be a heavier police presence in the community," Cpl. Julie Courchaine told reporters in Winnipeg Wednesday afternoon.
"With respect to public safety, we understand the concerns being raised. This is a complex, ongoing investigation, involving multiple jurisdictions. We are engaged with police across Canada."
Gillam is approximately 12-hours’ drive northeast of Winnipeg, with only road in and out of the community.
But, said OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne said if the Manitoba sightings are correct, then the pair could be moving east.
“The next stop is Ontario,” Dionne said. “We need to be vigilant and provide this advisory to the public. We don’t have anything specific.”
More resources have been deployed to Gillam, but Courchaine offered no specifics. She said they were "coming from all over."
"We are investigating all tips and are continuing to ask for the public's assistance," Courchaine said. Updates will be provided as they become available, she said.
They were seen in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, on July 21, driving the grey 2011 Toyota RAV 4 before moving east to Manitoba.
The two were also reportedly seen at a gas station in Split Lake, Manitoba, about a two-hour drive west of Gillam.
Gillam's Deputy Mayor John McDonald said people in Gillam were also making sure their vehicles are locked as RCMP searched,
McDonald said if McLeod and Schmegelsky are there, they’re in a region known for its thick bush, swamps and pesky insects and where it's easy to get lost.
"If they are wandering around in the bush, they couldn't have picked a worse time because the sandflies came out three days ago and they're just voracious," he said Wednesday.
Both suspects stand 6-foot-4 inches tall and weigh around 169 pounds. Police said earlier Tuesday they may now be driving a different vehicle and may have changed their appearances and clothing.
On Monday, police said the teenagers were missing, but after making a public appeal for help in finding them, investigators received new information that led them to believe the two are suspects in all three killings, said RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet.
McLeod and Schmegelsky, best friends since elementary school, had left Port Alberni on Vancouver Island for Whitehorse on July 12 to find work, according to family.
Schmegelsky’s father said he can’t square the allegations against his son with the “good kid” he knows. “I don’t know what to think anymore,” said Alan Schmegelsky. “I’m in disbelief. I didn’t see any signs of violence.”
Although his son was interested in airsoft guns — an imitation firearm that shoots small pellets at much slower speeds than real guns — Schmegelsky believes his son had never shot a real gun.
He said Bryer would go into the woods with friends to play strategy games and simulate combat. Schmegelsky bought him a camouflage outfit for the game. He was glad his son was getting outside and spending time with friends.
“His buddies all had them and that was their outdoor video game. You know, a real-life video game,” he said.
The investigation in northern B.C. began on July 15 after the bodies of Deese of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fowler of Sydney, Australia, were discovered by a road worker on the side of the Alaska Highway, about 20 kilometres south of Liard Hot Springs.
RCMP said the two had been shot and killed on July 14 or 15. The couple, who met in Croatia two years ago, had been travelling through B.C. in a van that belonged to Fowler.
Lucas’s father, Stephen Fowler, called the couple “a great pair.”
“It’s a love story that’s ended tragically. It’s the worst-ever love story,” said Fowler, a police officer in Australia.