VANCOUVER — Police announced Wednesday that human remains found in rural northern Manitoba are believed to belong to B.C. fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, bringing to an end a three-week long manhunt that gripped the nation.“It’s huge to be able to hopefully give some people an opportunity to exhale and to … eventually go back to normal and not be afraid of who’s out in the woods,” RCMP assistant commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a televised news conference.With the discovery of the bodies, attention shifts to a key question: why. What would prompt two young men, as authorities suspect, to kill Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler, a visiting couple from the U.S. and Australia, and Leonard Dyck, a UBC lecturer, in northern B.C.?On that question, B.C. RCMP officials had little to offer Wednesday, acknowledging that the answer may never be found.“It’s going to be extremely difficult for us to ascertain definitively what the motive was,” RCMP assistant commissioner Kevin Hackett told reporters in B.C. “Obviously we won’t have the opportunity to speak to these individuals.”A man who lives in the suspects’ hometown of Port Alberni, B.C., and who befriended the pair through a shared interest in online gaming, told the National Post he was disappointed the public would never get to hear the suspects’ side of the story.“I think we all wanted to hear their side,” said the friend, who asked to remain anonymous.“I think most people just wanted to know why they ran, was it a misunderstanding or did something happen and it escalated extremely quickly? … We were hoping to see their day in court and figure out everything.”
Port Alberni, the hometown of two teenagers suspected of killing three people, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, July 26, 2019. Heavily armed officers with dogs, drones and helicopters are hunting for the two suspects in bush, swamp and forest — an optimal place to hide, but a difficult place to survive.
Melissa Renwick/The New York Times
Prior to the discovery of the remains at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday, the last confirmed sighting of McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, 18, was on July 22 when the burned-out Toyota Rav4 they had been driving was found near Gillam, Man. Dense brush and swampy terrain made the frustrating search even more challenging.“We knew that we needed just to find that one piece of evidence that could move this search forward,” MacLatchy said. “On Friday, Aug. 2, that one critical piece of evidence was found.”A damaged aluminum boat and other items directly linked to the suspects were spotted by helicopter on the shores of Nelson River, Man. That allowed police to narrow their search efforts.“We immediately sent in specialized RCMP teams to begin searching nearby high probability areas,” MacLatchy said.Wednesday morning, RCMP officers walking through thick brush located the bodies about one kilometre from where the items were found on the shoreline and about eight kilometres from where the burned-out vehicle had been recovered.An autopsy will be carried out in Winnipeg to confirm their identities and cause of death, MacLatchy said.“To the families of everyone affected by the series of events over the last few weeks, I know it has been so very difficult. And I hope today’s announcement can begin to bring some closure,” she said.
A damaged aluminum boat, recovered from the shores of the Nelson River by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) searching for fugitive murder suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, is seen in Sundance, Manitoba, Canada August 4, 2019. Picture taken August 4, 2019.
Manitoba RCMP/ REUTERS
She thanked the residents of Gillam, the Fox Lake Cree Nation and other surrounding areas who had “lived with uncertainty and fear” for days.Garry Clement, a retired RCMP superintendent, told the Post the fact the two men were found together suggests they had made a suicide pact — to “go out together.”The discovery of the bodies may explain why search aircraft equipped with infrared or heat-sensing technology may not have picked up anything during their flyovers, he added.Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said he was not surprised the suspects were found dead.“This is non-forgiving terrain and there was a lot of speculation this was likely to be the outcome,” he said.Deese’s brother, British Deese, told The Associated Press that his family needed time to process the news that the suspects’ bodies had been found.“We are speechless,” he said in a text message, declining further comment.The family of Schmegelsky posted a note to the door of the family home in Port Alberni telling reporters to leave them alone.“To all media reporters and camera people: we request that you respect our privacy at this time by keeping off our property and not ringing the doorbell or banging on our door. You have become a nuicance (sic) to us and our neighbours. We will not be making any statement,” the note reads in all capital letters. Hackett told reporters in B.C. that the work of homicide investigators was still ongoing and that the case had generated more than 1,000 tips.“We still need to ensure our investigative findings … continue to confirm our investigative theory and eliminates any other possibilities or suspects,” he told reporters.As of Wednesday, investigators had not identified any other suspects, he said.“I am confident that there is no further risk to the public.”McLeod and Schmegelsky had told family and friends they were leaving their home of Port Alberni to find work on July 12.They were facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of Dyck, whose body was discovered along a highway pullout two kilometres south of Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19. Police will not say how he died out of respect for his family, Hackett said.The teens were considered suspects in the shooting deaths of Deese and Fowler, whose bodies were found along a highway south of Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.There was “significant evidence” that linked both crime scenes, Hackett said, but nothing to indicate the victims knew each other or that they were specifically targeted. In a statement Wednesday, the B.C. Prosecution Service said the second-degree murder charge against the pair would be “abated” once confirmation is received that the accused are dead.Clement told the Post it was unlikely investigators would ever get to the bottom of what prompted the killings or why the suspects ended up fleeing to rural Manitoba.“Forensics will only tell you so much,” he said.“(Unanswered questions), that’s the big thing here,” said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “This wasn’t the outcome we’d hoped for and now we may not get the answers we’d hoped for.”Asked how the suspects eluded police for so long and whether there was anything the RCMP would’ve done differently, Hackett said the force is always open to doing things better but stood by the decisions made and the timeliness of when information went out to the public.“It’s a huge country. … If you look at the distance travelled, it’s like travelling from London to Moscow, to put things in perspective, coupled with the fact they were travelling in areas that weren’t highly populated.”National Post, With files from Postmedia News and The Canadian Press