Cops closing in on highway killer suspects
SWAT teams, tactical assault vehicles, drones, helicopters and sniffer dogs have descended on a remote northern Canada in a frantic search for two teenagers accused of embarking on a murderous highway rampage.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they have received 80 tips from the public the past two days and believe accused killers Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, remain near Gillam.
It's also been revealed that one of two suspected teen killers bought a black "funeral suit" before allegedly going on the murderous spree, according to his father.
Canadian police have issued warrants for the arrests of both teens after three victims, including Australian man Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, were gunned down on the side of a highway.
McLeod and Schmegelsky have been charged with one count of second degree murder in relation to the death of Canadian man Leonard Dyck, 64, who was also killed on the roadside a few hundred kilometres away.
No other charges have yet been laid, but police have confirmed the longtime friends are the prime suspects in the triple slayings.
The victims' slain bodies were discovered on the side of a highway in northern British Columbia earlier this month, but the suspects have now been tracked three provinces and hundreds of kilometres away to the northern Manitoba town of Gillam, police said.
Heavily armoured SWAT team trucks have descended on the remote town, where McLeod and Schmegelsky dumped and torched their latest getaway vehicle.
"We can now confirm that there have been two established and corroborated sightings of the suspects in the Gillam area," RCMP said in a statement.
"These sightings were prior to the discovery of the burnt-out vehicle."
The teens have been missing since their Dodge pick-up truck was found abandoned and on fire on the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia on July 19.
Mr Fowler, from Sydney, and Ms Deese, from Charlotte in North Carolina, had been travelling through northern British Columbia en route to Alaska when they were found shot to death alongside their blue Chevrolet mini-van on July 15.
On July 19, Mr Dyck, a University of British Columbia lecturer, was found dead near Lake Dease, two kilometres from the teens' burnt-out Dodge and almost 500km from where Mr Fowler and Ms Deese's bodies were discovered.
Investigators have linked the teens to all three shooting murders and have warned the public to "consider them armed and dangerous". As authorities continue the frantic search for the suspected killers, details have continued to emerge about the lead-up to the horrific ordeal.
Alan Schmegelsky, the father of Bryer Schmegelsky, said his son bought a black suit with his second pay cheque from the Walmart where he worked this year and told him he was heading to Alberta with McLeod to look for jobs.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn two days later … that they were up in the Yukon," he told reporters.
"Now I realise it's his funeral suit."
The distraught father said his son was on a "suicide mission" and expected he would be killed by police within 48 hours.
"He wants his hurt to end," Mr Schmegelsky told Canadian Press.
"They're going to go out in a blaze of glory.
"Trust me on this."
He described his son's upbringing as being troubled, with his parents going through a bitter separation in 2005.
The boy, then aged five, moved with his mother to the small Vancouver Island community of Port Alberni, where he met McLeod. They attended the same elementary school and quickly became inseparable best friends.
A visual to understand how remote Gillam, Manitoba really is. Just landed. Did see a number of RCMP officers who also just landed. #BCmurders #Manitoba @GlobalNational @globalnews @globalwinnipeg @cjob pic.twitter.com/oi2BnogZ77— Crystal Goomansingh (@cgoomansingh) July 24, 2019
They were "everyday, good kids" who didn't get into trouble, but his son had problems at home and, at 16, briefly moved to Victoria to live with him, Mr Schmegelsky said.
Video games and YouTube became his main influences, and eventually he returned to Port Alberni to live with his grandmother before graduating from high school earlier this year, his father said.
"I'm so sorry all this had to happen. I'm so sorry that I couldn't rescue you," Mr Schmegelsky said through tears.
"Rest in peace, Bryer. I love you."
McLeod's father, Keith McLeod, released a statement talking up the compassionate nature of his son despite communities across Canada terrified of crossing paths with him.
"This is what I do know - Kam is a kind, considerate, caring young man," Mr McLeod wrote.
He said McLeod was mostly into fantasy video games including League of Legends.
"He didn't have a lot of friends, but he was really funny," Mr McHale said.
"Bryer was really quiet with people. He was really loud-spoken in his friend group but pretty quiet in general."
TRACKING THE SUSPECTS
The teens, who are both from Port Alberni, have been spotted since their alleged slayings but were still on the run on Thursday. A burnt-out car that police believe belonged to them was found in Gillam, Manitoba, leading investigators to believe they're in the area.
Gillam, with a population of just 1265, is so isolated the town's mayor Dwayne Forman described it as "the end of the road".
"Manitoba RCMP has sent a number of resources to the Gillam area" near Hudson Bay, the federal police wrote on Twitter.
But even as the reinforcements were being called in, there was an unconfirmed sighting of McLeod and Schmegelsky at Split Lake, some 85km north of the current search area.
Petrol station worker Michelle Keeper told CBC News she believes she served the pair on Monday at about 4pm. It was not clear what vehicle they were travelling in at the time or whether the encounter happened before or after SUV was found dumped at Gillam.
RCMP SWAT vehicles in Thompson ready to head to Gillam to search for the 2 suspects on the run. Stay safe and please report anything to your local RCMP #manitobamanhunt #canadamanhunt @CBCNews @CTVNews @rcmpmb pic.twitter.com/WRvRcfz5hS— PaulaDuarteSheppard🇨🇦🇵🇹 (@PaulaDS1973) July 25, 2019
Ms Keeper said McLeod paid for $20 worth of fuel and Schmegelsky asked if they could consume alcohol in the First Nations community, which is dry.
"The guy who paid for the gas - he was quiet, he didn't say anything, he was just looking down," she told CBC.
"They seemed like, I don't know, normal. I'm just so nervous right now thinking about it."
Ms Keeper said she didn't realised she had served the fugitives until she saw the RCMP's updated suspect photographs the following day.
She said McLeod was still sporting a short beard and Schmegelsky was wearing the same camouflaged shirt seen in the police alert.
Prior to that, the suspects were last seen in the north of neighbouring Saskatchewan province driving a grey Toyota RAV4 on July 21.
Authorities have warned the public against interacting with McLeod and Schmegelsky.
"If you spot them - take no actions - do not approach - call 911 or your local police immediately," the RCMP said.
The Gillam area is "all swamp, heavy trees" and occasionally visited by polar bears, Mr Forman told public broadcaster CBC.
"There's only one road in and one road out," Mr Forman said.
A RAV4 was found in flames near the town earlier this week, Canadian media reported on Wednesday.
LUCAS FOWLER AND CHYNNA DEESE
Curtis and Sandra Broughton, who are believed to be among the last people to have seen Mr Fowler and Ms Deese alive, have told police of assisting the couple after their van broke down on the side of the road on July 14. Their slain bodies were discovered on the side of a highway the next day.
Mr Fowler, the son of a chief inspector with the New South Wales Police department, was living in British Columbia, and Ms Deese was visiting him.
The couple had met at a hostel in Croatia, and their romance blossomed as they adventured across the US, Mexico, Peru and elsewhere, said British Deese, the woman's elder brother.
Mr Deese said the couple were on a trip to visit Canadian national parks and said the family believed they must have had engine trouble in their van when they met with foul play.
LEONARD DYCK, 64
Until Wednesday, Leonard Dyck, a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia, had gone unidentified as the man whose body was found on 19 July, two kilometres from the burned-out remains of the truck McLeod and Schmegelsky were travelling in.
Dyck's family said in a statement late Wednesday: "We are truly heart broken by the sudden and tragic loss of Len. He was a loving husband and father. His death has created unthinkable grief and we are struggling to understand what has happened."