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Canada Discovery of bodies police believe to be B.C. fugitives allows Fox Lake, Gillam communities to exhale again

A family holds a beach bonfire at Stephens Lake near Gillam, Man., on the Friday evening after RCMP said they found the remains of fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod in the Northern Manitoba bush.

Photography by Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

For two weeks, a makeshift community centre made of wooden beams and an orange tarp served as a gathering place to assuage residents’ fears as a manhunt for two homicide suspects fixated on the wilderness surrounding Fox Lake Cree Nation in Manitoba.

When a strong wind tore the centre down on Thursday, a day after two bodies were found in the brush near the Nelson River, elder Linda Neckoway saw it as signal. The time had come to start healing.

“It was a sign of a big change for us. You got to listen to that, to the skies, to the winds,” she said outside her home Saturday.

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Linda Neckoway, a Fox Lake Cree Nation elder.

The Bird reserve of Fox Lake Cree Nation, with a population of about 200, was the closest community to the intense manhunt for fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, suspected of killing three people in Northern B.C. last month.

The RCMP scoured the vast wilderness encircling Bird and the larger community of Gillam, about 55 kilometres away.

The police search appeared to hit an impasse and the manhunt was scaled back, leaving residents unsure of whether they were safe to venture out of their homes and into the dense northern Manitoba bush to hunt, fish and pick berries.

The discovery on Wednesday of two bodies police believe are those of Mr. Schmegelsky, 18, and Mr. McLeod, 19, has allowed the communities of Fox Lake and Gillam to exhale again, Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said.

“We don’t have to worry about them coming out of the bush and possibly hurting one of our community members,” Mr. Forman said. “We don’t have to worry about that anymore. That fear, that element is gone.”

While the fear is gone, it will take time to move past the anxiety of the past few weeks, the mayor said. During the manhunt, many residents were keeping their children at home and some were sleeping with hunting guns nearby. Some elders had barely left their homes.

“We’re talking to the elders about how they’re feeling. It’s a traumatic event for them because they experienced so much fear. These guys were armed and dangerous,” Ms. Neckoway said. “Recovery will take a little while.”

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A rainbow is seen over Provincial Road 290 north of Gillam, the road where the fugitives' burned-out car was found.

Linda Neckoway, right, sits on an ATV with her granddaughter at home. Some elders in the Fox Lake Cree Nation's Bird reserve have barely left their homes while the manhunt was ongoing.

Elders sit at a makeshift community hall. Ms. Neckoway says that when its orange tarp blew down last Thursday, she took it as a sign that the time for healing had begun.

Manitoba RCMP said officers found the bodies about eight kilometres from where a Toyota RAV4 – that police believe the fugitives were driving – was set on fire in a ditch not far from the Bird reserve.

Police have said they are confident the bodies are of the fugitives but are waiting for the results of autopsies.

Doug Koski, a civilian spokesperson for the RCMP in B.C., said Sunday in an interview that there will be an announcement Monday on the case involving the B.C. fugitives, but that he had not been informed of the contents of that announcement.

Mr. Schmegelsky and Mr. McLeod of Port Alberni, B.C., are suspects in the deaths of American Chynna Deese, 24, and her 23-year-old Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, who were shot to death on the side of a Northern B.C. highway and found on July 15.

Four days later, the body of Vancouver resident Leonard Dyck, 64, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia’s botany department, was discovered on a road near Dease Lake, about 500 kilometres southwest of the hot springs. The pair was charged with second-degree murder in Mr. Dyck’s death, the cause of which has not been released.

Mr. Schmegelsky and Mr. McLeod were initially deemed missing by police and not declared suspects until after Mr. Dyck’s burnt Toyota was found near Bird. By then, the pair had travelled more than 3,000 kilometres.

Chynna Deese, Lucas Fowler and Leonard Dyck.

Patrick Martone, UBC/RCMP/The Canadian Press

In Bird on Saturday, Ms. Neckoway and a group of residents headed off into the bush to pick berries by the train tracks. At the home of Tamara and Billy Beardy – the couple who found the torched Toyota – children jumped outside on a trampoline as Ms. Beardy prepared bannock tacos. Slowly, the tension of the manhunt is easing.

Sharing circles are being planned in Bird to bring residents together to express their feelings – as they had in the makeshift community centre. Crisis workers from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak remain in the community.

At some point, a ceremony will be held where the human remains and vehicle were found, Fox Lake Chief Walter Spence said at a community meeting in Gillam.

Ms. Neckoway expects medicine men will be brought in for the cleansing ceremony.

“When you have a ceremony like that, it helps your spirit move on in a good way and also their spirit to move on in a good way,” she said. “It helps you both to move on, instead of staying stuck where you are. It’s almost like a letting go ceremony.”

With a report from Melissa Tait in Gillam, Man.

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Mini-doc: The Globe in Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation

Residents of Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation are left with lingering questions and weariness after the RCMP found two bodies believed to be triple homicide suspects. The Globe and Mail


Map: How the manhunt unfolded

1

CANADA

2

3

4

5

B.C.

ALTA.

SASK.

MAN.

0

300

U.S.

KM

July 15, near

Liard Hot Springs:

Two bodies found on

Alaska Highway

1

July 18, Jade City:

Suspects spotted

2

July 19, Dease Lake:

A body found two

kilometres from truck

belonging to suspects

3

July 21, Cold Lake:

Suspects spotted

4

July 21, Meadow Lake:

Suspects spotted

5

0

24

KM

Sundance

Stephens Lake

6

Gillam

MANITOBA

Split Lake

7

July 22, Split Lake:

Band constables pulled

thea pair over before they

were named suspects

6

July 28, York Landing:

Police search area in

response to unconfirmed

sighting of suspects

7

Boat launch where the dive team and others took off to search

July 22, Sundance:

Suspects’ burned-

out vehicle found

280

Sundance

August 2:

Approximate

rowboat

location

Nelson

River

August 8:

Approximate

body location

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU;

GOOGLE EARTH

1

CANADA

2

3

MAN.

4

5

B.C.

ALTA.

SASK.

0

300

U.S.

KM

July 15, near Liard Hot Springs:

Two bodies found on Alaska Highway

1

July 18, Jade City:

Suspects spotted

2

July 19, Dease Lake:

A body found two kilometres from

truck belonging to suspects

3

July 21, Cold Lake:

Suspects spotted

4

July 21, Meadow Lake:

Suspects spotted

5

0

12

KM

Sundance

280

6

Stephens Lake

Gillam

MANITOBA

Split Lake

7

July 22, Split Lake:

Band constables pulled the pair over

before they were named suspects

6

July 28, York Landing:

Police search area in response to

unconfirmed sighting of suspects

7

Boat launch where the dive team and others took off to search

July 22, Sundance:

Suspects’ burned-

out vehicle found

280

Sundance

August 2:

Approximate

rowboat

location

Nelson

River

August 8:

Approximate

body location

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU;

GOOGLE EARTH

0

300

July 18, Jade City:

Suspects spotted

July 15, near Liard Hot Springs:

Two bodies found on Alaska Highway

KM

July 21,

Cold Lake:

Suspects spotted

CANADA

ALBERTA

SASK.

BRITISH

COLUMBIA

MANITOBA

July 19, Dease Lake:

A body found two

kilometres from truck

belonging to suspects

July 21,

Meadow Lake:

Suspects spotted

U.S.

July 22, Split Lake:

Band constables pulled the pair over before they were named suspects

290

Sundance

280

Stephens Lake

Gillam

MANITOBA

Split

Lake

July 28, York Landing:

Police search area in response to

unconfirmed sighting of suspects

0

12

KM

Boat launch where the dive team and others took off to search

August 2:

Approximate

rowboat

location

Nelson

River

August 8:

Approximate

body location

July 22, Sundance:

Suspects’ burned-

out vehicle found

280

Sundance

Fox Lake

Cree Nation

Reserve

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; GOOGLE EARTH


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