Dead-ends in hunt for murder suspects
The two strongest leads as to the possible whereabouts of two teens accused of the Canadian highway triple murders have both reached dead-ends as the fugitives enter their second week on the run.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have pulled their "heavy presence" from York Landing after receiving a tip that Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, had been spotted rummaging for food in bushland and fled when they saw the witness.
It was also announced today that police have completed their "door-to-door" canvassing in Gillam after searching more than 500 homes.
Despite dozens of officers, sniffer dogs and drones combing the remote towns - about 90km apart and 1000km north of the provincial capital of Winnipeg - there was no trace found of the pair and police said they were "unable to substantiate the tip".
"The heavy police presence in York Landing has been withdrawn & policing resources in the community will return to normal. The RCMP thanks the community for their patience & understanding," police said in a statement today.
RCMP resources remain in the Gillam area and will continue to conduct searches in high probability areas for any signs of the suspects. The search of remote areas is being conducted both on foot and in the air. #rcmpmb pic.twitter.com/3QCPrQ4Tpw— RCMP Manitoba (@rcmpmb) July 30, 2019
The York Landing tip included information that the two people sighted were wearing the same clothing - Schmegelsky in a camouflage jacket and McLeod in a blue T-shirt - that they were pictured in on CCTV footage from a hardware store in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.
An exhaustive search of the area failed to locate the duo, childhood friends and former Walmart employees from Vancouver Island, who had either managed another miraculous escape or were never there in the first place.
But if it was Schmegelsky and McLeod searching for food, those closest to the hunt say the path they took to get there is littered with obstacles that would make hiding near impossible and very unpleasant. If the teens did make it to York Landing, they are not there now. The emergency response team and other resources that flooded the town yesterday have largely been sent back to Gillam.
"We thank the community for their patience & understanding & ask them to continue to be vigilant," police said in a statement.
But soon after again broadening their search in Gillam, the RCMP revealed that it has "now completed their door to door canvasses in Fox Lake Cree Nation & the Town of Gillam".
"To date, over 500 homes have been visited by investigators," a statement read.
Schmegelsky and McLeod are wanted over the murders of Mr Fowler, 23, his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, and university professor Leonard Dyck, 64, on highways in British Columbia, in Canada's west.
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.
Since Tuesday last week, the village of Gillam near Hudson Bay in the country's north had been on high alert for McLeod and Schmegelsky.
The fugitives were believed to have wound up in the area, after an epic 3200km chase across three provinces that began in British Columbia, on the Pacific coast, where their three victims were discovered earlier this month. The hunt for the killers moved to Gillam after police received reports of two sightings of the suspects in the area.
SWAT teams, tactical assault vehicles, drones, helicopters and sniffer dogs descended on the remote town and appeared to be closing in on the teens. But police later revealed there were fears the pair could have already left the area, possibly with the help of an unsuspecting stranger.
The last confirmed sighting of the fugitives was in Split Lake on July 22.
In a bombshell revelation yesterday, it was revealed that First Nations police in rural Canada stopped the pair in the area as they were fleeing Dease Lake, only to let them go.
Canadian news outlet Global News spoke with Nathan Neckoway, a Band councillor from the Tataskweyak Cree Nation near Split Lake, 169km from Gillam, Manitoba, where the teens were believed to be hiding earlier on.
Cr Neckaway says Band constables - whose job it is to enforce specific provincial bylaws - stopped the two men last Monday for a routine alcohol check. Split Lake is a dry community.
When they didn't find any alcohol, they let the pair go, Cr Neckoway said.
The fugitives' brief encounter with police came at a crucial time in the investigation.
It fell within the window of time between when the pair fled British Columbia, and were named as suspects in the murders the following day.
"We weren't aware of their status, of them being wanted," he said. "Apparently after they came to our community that's when they sent out that wanted status."
The sighting was supported by previous reports that Schmegelsky and McLeod stopped for petrol in Split Lake where the question about alcohol was raised.
Last week, service station attendant Mychelle Keeper said McLeod paid for $20 worth of petrol but Schmegelsky asked casually whether he could consume alcohol in the dry community.
"The guy who paid for the gas - he was quiet, he didn't say anything, he was just looking down," she said.
"They seemed like, I don't know, normal. I'm just so nervous right now thinking about it."
The teens were named as suspects the following day.
As officers tried to close the net, they found the pair's torched Rav4 near Gillam, 170km from Split Lake, on July 24 but they were nowhere to be found, and have continued to evade authorities.
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
In a statement, RCMP said McLeod and Schmegelsky "may have changed their appearance and inadvertently been given assistance to leave the area by someone that was not aware of who they were".
"If anyone out there is hesitant to come forward - it is crucial for you call police immediately," the statement continued.
Chynna Deese's brother British Deese told news.com.au the ordeal was taking a huge toll on his "worn out" family.
"We didn't expect that this would get to much international attention but it's oddly comforting to have the world mourning with you," Mr Deese said.