The Canadian Press
A chief in northeastern Manitoba says doors are locked, roads are empty and people are on edge as armed police officers search the area for two suspects wanted for killings in British Columbia.
“The manhunt is on here,” York Factory Chief Leroy Constant said Monday.
“Until these suspects are caught or our area deemed safe that fear will still remain.”
RCMP received a tip Sunday just before 5 p.m. that two males matching the descriptions of Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, were spotted near a dump in York Landing, a small community along the Nelson River.
The duo is charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia professor Leonard Dyck. They are also suspects in the fatal shootings of Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese whose bodies were found on the Alaska Highway in northern B.C.
Canada-wide warrants have been issued for both men.
Constant said there are some 30 officers in the remote community of 500, along with a dog team, emergency response teams, helicopters and armed searchers on all-terrain vehicles.
The last confirmed sighting of the two suspects was a week ago in Gillam, another remote community to the northeast of York Landing.
York Landing is only accessible by air or a two-hour ferry crossing in the summer. There’s also a rail line that runs 25 kilometres south of the community.
Constant said he would be surprised if the pair made it to his community on foot because the northern terrain is treacherous.
“You would have to go many miles to reach anything,” he said.
“One of the challenges is it’s heavily wooded and we are primarily surrounded by water. There’s only limited areas they can access.”
A member of the Manitoba Trappers Association agrees the climate and topography are tricky.
“We barely even had a summer,” said Ron Spence, who speaks for trappers in Ilford, Split Lake, York Landing, Nelson House, South Indian Lake, Granville Lake, Shamattawa, Churchill, Tadoule Lake and Gillam.
“It’s been cool – like fall.”
Spence said the lakes and rivers are swimmable but they’re pretty cold.
“With these heavy rains that we’ve been having they’re going to have a challenge if they’re not experienced in bush life,” he said.
“We have rocky areas, swamp, muskeg; the bugs here are a reality – mosquitoes, sandflies and horseflies.”
Spence said the traplines that run for hundreds of kilometres across the region are dangerous and not monitored during the summer.
“They could be strung up in somebody’s trap or keeping out of sight in a trapper’s cabin.”
He said there’s only one road in and out of the area along with a railroad track that runs between the city of Thompson and the northern town of Churchill. Traplines are only accessible in the winter via snow machine or plane.
“No one’s checking them right now,” Spence said of the hundreds of traplines.
A burned-out Toyota RAV4 the suspects were travelling in was found near Gillam, roughly 90 kilometres from York Landing, last week.
Police said on the weekend that they had received more than 200 tips over the course of five days, but none convinced investigators the pair had left the bug-infested and bog-strewn landscape.
Cpl. Julie Courchaine said Monday the York Landing tip was credible and that’s why resources have been focused on that area. Isolation, distance, difficult terrain and darkness have made the search difficult, she added.
“It’s northern Manitoba so it’s challenging terrain, lots of forest, lots of muskeg, waterways, everything like that,” she said.
“However, our number one priority again is to find these individuals.”
A Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules aircraft equipped with high-tech thermal detection gear joined the search over the weekend. Police also used drones and tracking dogs while officers went door to door checking every home and abandoned building.
People in York Landing are being encouraged to remain vigilant, stay indoors and keep their doors and windows locked, said Courchaine.
“We are still looking at every possibility in this investigation,” she said.
With files from Kathleen Martens