Teen fugitives dubbed ‘little Houdinis’
CANADIAN police hunting the suspected teen killers of Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese regard them as "little Houdinis".
Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, have now not been seen for several days.
Their grey 2011 Toyota Rav4 was found burnt out in a ditch about 30 miles (50km) north of Gillam, Manitoba, last Monday night.
Up to 1000 officers across Canada are now trying to track down the youngsters but there have been no fresh sightings.
The intense search in and around Gillam, which has included using drones, dogs and even a giant military Hercules aircraft, could last several weeks.
Officers have also now visited 250 homes in the area to see if any local may have picked them up believing them to be hitchhikers and taken them outside the area.
Much of the terrain outside the town is known as 'muskeg' - swamp - and difficult to access.
Investigators are also looking into 200 tips they have received over the past five days.
They have also issued a plea for witnesses to contact them directly rather than to post what they know on social media.
The Royal Canadian Military Police headquarters in Winnipeg also said from the tips they have received "none have established that the suspects are out of the Gillam area."
An officer involved in the investigation said: "We call them little Houdinis. They've vanished.
"The search is still intense and could last several weeks. We are trying to cover a huge, huge area."
In a series of tweets, the RCMP said: "Canadians with tips about the suspects should immediately contact their local police.
"Multiple tips of sightings have been posted to social media & NOT directly reported to police.
"If the tips are valid, it could create a substantial delay in response by police."
They added: "Investigators have now received over 200 tips in the last five days.
"None has established that the suspects are outside the Gillam area.
"The RCMP continues to remind the public that it's possible the suspects inadvertently received assistance and no longer in the area."
They added: "No new sightings of suspects.
"Officers are searching cottages, cabins, waterways and along the rail line for any signs of the suspects.
"The search of remote areas is being conducted both on foot and in the air.
"The terrain is immense and varied with lakes, lands muskeg etc."
MANHUNT 'BACK TO SQUARE ONE'
It comes as the Canadian police said they had gone "back to square one".
Twelve camouflaged officers armed with automatic weapons and accompanied by a police dog were seen by News Corp at the 600-room Keewatinohk Lodge yesterday, the closest shelter to where the suspects' burnt-out grey 2011 Toyota Rav4 was found just after 7pm last Monday, July 22, 15 miles (24km) to the west.
Since then a vast area hundreds of square miles around Gillam, northern Manitoba, has been searched by scores of Emergency Response Team officers using drones, dogs and a giant Hercules air force plane equipped with a powerful thermal-imaging and high-definition cameras.
Armed officers were seen gathering at the lodge, which was first searched last week, just before noon.
After a short debrief during which some of the officers checked the target sights on their weapons, they began their search.
One armed officer at the scene said: "We're back checking the building again. We're doing all we can to find them."
The huge building is dotted with CCTV cameras but it is not known if they are operating.
A worker at the nearby electrical plant told us: "It's odd that they're back here checking the lodge again.
"It's like they've gone back to square one.
"I stayed at the lodge and it's like a five-star hotel in there. It really is something inside.
"There's gyms, restaurants, internet. Everything.
"For someone on the run it would be a great place to hide out, if you can get in.
"With these guys still on the run it's worrying for us because we haven't been told what's going on and it's scary to think these boys could have been hiding out here.
"We've got no guns, no protection, no security. All we've got is our shovels.
"We stay in groups of two or more and close to our pick-up trucks."
The giant building was erected five years ago to house workers building a nearby plant.
It is about to be taken down and moved piece by piece to Houston, Texas, to house workers at another building project.
Officers went door-to-door in Gillam over the weekend asking residents if they may have inadvertently picked up the suspects hitchhiking.
Police have said it is possible the duo changed their appearance and fooled a local into driving them out of the area.
The Hercules plane was also continuing its sweep of the area yesterday despite heavy rain and lightning.
The Canadian air force plane with body heat sensors joined the hunt for the suspected thrill killers.
The increased army presence in the search came as local police appeared to use the tragedy to promote tourism in the rugged Canadian wilderness near where the teenage suspects were last seen.
POLICE DEFEND POLAR BEAR TOURISM TWEET
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police tweeted a picture of a polar bear, saying it was "just some of the wildlife than can found in northern Manitoba".
A polar bear was spotted during the search for the suspects earlier today – about 200km north of Gillam. Just some of the wildlife that can be found in northern Manitoba. pic.twitter.com/Z1hbbtOCxw— RCMP Manitoba (@rcmpmb) July 27, 2019
However locals at a community gathering in Gillam, the remote town that has become the epicentre of a national manhunt over the past week, described the post as distasteful.
"The tweet is inappropriate. It shouldn't be sent out when people here are worried about two killers being on the loose. Folks are having to lock their doors for the first time and others are too scared to go out," said massage therapist Eryhn Wicks, 34.
"Polar bears are actually dangerous and you need to be very careful of them. They're not cute teddy bears."
Despite criticism of the polar bear tweet, a spokesman for the RCMP said it "was not at all about tourism".
"We have received literally hundreds of media inquiries asking to describe the search environment for the two suspects. We have been repeatedly asked what our officers are encountering, not only the terrain but also the wildlife," the spokesman said.
"We have wolves, black bears and polar bears in abundance here in northern Manitoba where the search is currently underway. Our effort with the tweet was to demonstrate just how dangerous northern Manitoba can be and the very real possibility of what may be encountered."
He added that the social media platform was possibly "not the best way to convey all of this".
Locals in Gillam held a barbecue to get scared residents out of their homes, some for the first time in days.
The event was attended by more than 100 adults and kids at the small town's community building called The Gazebo.
An officer from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also attended.
"The idea is to get people outdoors and especially the kids," said George Fletcher, 41, one of the organisers.
"Lots of the children haven't been out of their homes for days because their parents don't want them to go out unsupervised so we want to get them out and playing together."
A community spokeswoman said: "This is to help reassure the community, too. People have not been feeling safe and they've been scared.
"We want to ask the police some questions, too, just to make sure we know everything is being done to catch these two kids."
The military C130 Hercules plane has scoured an area hundreds of square kilometres north of Gillam, where the suspected teen killers are thought to be hiding out.
After the pilots were briefed on the search it took off to sweep the wilderness in Manitoba, with its powerful thermal imaging camera.
An officer helping to lead the police search teams in Gillam said: "The Hercules is going to be a huge help covering a big distance in a short space of time. It's fitted with all kinds of sensors to pick up movement and body heat."