PORT ALBERNI — There are so many unanswered questions, chief among them why?But that’s only the first question about how 18-year-old Bryer Schmegelsky and 19-year-old Kam McLeod became Canada’s most wanted fugitives, leading authorities on a 3,000-kilometre chase from northern B.C. into the northeastern Manitoba wilderness.“I just hope they get them before anybody else gets hurt and they can answer everybody’s questions because there are so many questions that need answering,” Lisa Lucas said.Schmegelsky and McLeod have not been sighted since Monday in Gillam, Man.Lucas lives across the street from where Schmegelsky lived with his grandmother in Port Alberni. When he was younger Schmegelsky hung out at Lucas’s house with one of her sons of the same age, up to about four years ago, she said.“Bryer never did anything to cause me alarm. He was a little shy and was an oddball kid at 11, 12, 13. He was here a lot, he had a shitty home life, this was his fun house, she said. “As he got older he started to get really serious with odd comments while gaming, comments that made my son feel uncomfortable.”
Lisa Lucas, former neighbour of Bryer Schmegelsky, recalls how Schmegelsky would come play at her house in his younger years.
RICHARD LAM /
Lucas is one of many who wonders under what circumstances the three victims died.The story has focused international and unwanted media attention on Port Alberni, which relies on tourism for much of its economy. Britain’s Daily Mail sent two reporters from its California bureau, CNN has carried live streaming of the police search of the bogs, jack pine and black spruce outside of Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation in Manitoba.Related
Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, CBC and, of course, Postmedia are also in Port Alberni trying to find answers.The coverage has amounted to harassment, particularly of Kam McLeod’s family, said William Collett, CEO of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce.“The outcome could be horrific for his parents,” Collett said.Collett had just got off the phone with someone close to the McLeods.“The family is wrestling with how best to navigate this. They don’t know what to do, they have no idea how to respond. There is no script to follow. … I can’t help but think, ‘Oh my God!’, how would I respond. You and I have no idea.”A woman who answered the phone at the home of Schmegelsky’s mother Deborah Sweeney and her partner said Thursday the couple had left town because they felt besieged.One Port Alberni resident, who agreed to comment on the condition of anonymity, said he met McLeod and Schmegelsky through a mutual friend and stayed in touch because of their mutual interest in online gaming.He described the pair as “normal guys” but added that Schmegelsky could come across as “edgy.”“(It’s) hard to explain, kind of like he talks about darker stuff that most would consider maybe not appropriate, but in the gaming community that can be very commonplace as people act differently for attention,” he said via Facebook messenger.One time, the acquaintance asked Schmegelsky about his profile picture on the online gaming platform Steam. It depicts a logo that resembles a swastika which appears to be from the far-right Ukrainian group Azov Battalion, which formed in 2014.“(I) figured that was just him being goofy. People online, especially on PC, always have crazy names and pictures that aren’t always appropriate,” the acquaintance said.
Photos of Bryer Schmegelsky, with what appears to be an AirSoft rifle, which was provided to another user on a video game network, who supplied it to the National Post.
Another gamer said Schmegelsky had an “aggressive play style,” that Schmegelsky would target a player and harass them until they were forced to leave the game, finding out whatever he could about them that could be used as harassment. If a player sounded like a woman, for example, Schmegelsky would make sexist jokes.The user said Schmegelsky “spoke highly” of the Azov Battalion. Over time, they got the impression Schmegelsky was trying to get them interested in the neo-Nazi group.Schmegelsky’s father told The Canadian Press on Thursday his son was not a Nazi sympathizer, but did think Nazi memorabilia was cool.Alan Schmegelsky said his son took him to an army surplus store about eight months ago in Port Alberni, where the teen was excited about Nazi artifacts.“I was disgusted and dragged him out,” the father said. “My grandparents fled Ukraine with three small children during the Second World War.”The store, called Harreson’s Military, has closed and the former owner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Alfred Bergkvist, owner of ‘A’ Company Military Surplus in nearby Coombs, said he purchased all of Harreson’s merchandise, including some Nazi material, when it closed.Bergkvist recalled that two boys came into his store about three weeks ago and bought a replica Hitler Youth knife that is inscribed with the German words for “blood and honour.”“They were really excited about it,” he said, adding he didn’t know the pair and he doesn’t have security cameras.— With files from Canadian Press and Jacob Dube, Postmedia Newsgordmcintyre@postmedia.comtwitter.com/gordmcintyre