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Canada Manhunt for B.C. fugitives moves on as RCMP end search in Manitoba First Nation

Members of the Manitoba RCMP containment team search near the York Landing garbage dump on July 29, 2019.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

RCMP are withdrawing from York Landing in northern Manitoba after failing to locate two men wanted in a national manhunt for the killings of three people in British Columbia. One day after dozens of officers flooded into the remote community acting on a tip that the pair had been seen at the local dump, police concluded the two men likely weren’t there.

Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, continued to elude capture one week after they were named suspects in the deaths of a travelling professor and a young tourist couple. The incident commander on the case said Monday that RCMP are moving some resources back to Gillam, Man., where they had previously focused their efforts.

“There are sightings all over Canada and each one has to be followed up and police use a significant amount of resources, which takes away from another part of the investigation,” Inspector Kevin Lewis said.

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“It’s challenging when you don’t have a start point, right? And here we are trying to figure out where these fellows may be and, yeah, it’s hard to answer.”

Manitoba RCMP continue to investigate a credible tip that two suspects wanted for killings in British Columbia were spotted in the community of York Landing. The Canadian Press

The manhunt for the two suspects shifted to northern Manitoba on July 23. There has not been a confirmed spotting of the two men since the grey Toyota RAV4 they were driving was found on fire in a ditch near Fox Lake Cree Nation on July 22. They are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck and are also suspects in the fatal shootings of Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend, Chynna Deese.

On Sunday, members of the Bear Clan Patrol, a Winnipeg-based, Indigenous-led security group, were doing their last round when they spotted two men at York Landing’s dump, an open space teeming with black bears. There are small mounds of dirt, trash such as plastic bags and a clothes washer, and scraps of food.

Dozens of officers descended on the community Sunday. A search into the night resumed Monday with canine units, helicopters, a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules aircraft, drones and an RCMP boat patrol. Residents were advised to stay indoors with the windows closed and doors locked.

But the pair was not found. Insp. Lewis said authorities want to have tactical resources ready to deploy in multiple directions if need be. By Tuesday morning, all of the officers will be gone from York Landing.

Suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are seen in store footage released by the RCMP.

-/AFP/Getty Images

“Right now, I have almost all my tactical resources in York and there doesn’t seem to be any immediate threat there now so I am splitting my deck there, so speak,” Insp. Lewis said.

York Factory First Nation Chief Leroy Constant said late Monday afternoon in a Facebook post that the emergency response team was heading back to Gillam to “develop a plan moving forward.”

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“Major Crime Unit has also left the community. Ten officers will remain in York Landing overnight ... They will be departing on the 8 a.m. ferry.”

At the dump earlier on Monday, RCMP combed the area with sniffer dogs as a drone surveyed from above. Officers dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying rifles scanned the bush and dump on foot. A helicopter circled overhead.

But by mid-afternoon, the Mounties said in a tweet that, “After a thorough and exhaustive search, RCMP Manitoba has not been able to substantiate the tip in York Landing.”

York Landing is a community of about 500 people, accessible by ferry from Split Lake or by foot by following power and rail lines through the dense, insect-laden bush. It is about 100 kilometres southwest from Gillam, but rough terrain and limited roads easily double the journey.

At first, Travis Bighetty, a co-ordinator for the Bear Clan Patrol, and Justin Coelho, a fresh volunteer, thought the men might be contract workers or residents. But then they noticed there was no other vehicle around. No one in the community goes to the dump on foot because of the threat posed by the bears.

1

CANADA

2

3

4

5

B.C.

ALTA.

SASK.

MAN.

0

300

U.S.

KM

280

6

Stephens Lake

7

Gillam

MANITOBA

Split Lake

0

12

8

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

July 22, Split Lake:

Band constables pulled the pair over

before they were named suspects

6

July 22, Fox Lake Cree Nation:

Suspects’ burned-out vehicle found

7

July 28, York Landing:

Unconfirmed sighting of the suspects

8

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

1

CANADA

2

3

MAN.

4

5

B.C.

ALTA.

SASK.

0

300

U.S.

KM

280

6

Stephens Lake

7

Gillam

MANITOBA

Split Lake

0

12

8

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

July 22, Split Lake:

Band constables pulled the pair over

before they were named suspects

6

July 22, Fox Lake Cree Nation:

Suspects’ burned-out vehicle found

7

July 28, York Landing:

Unconfirmed sighting of the suspects

8

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

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.

0

12

KM

July 22, Split Lake:

Band constables pulled the pair over before they were named suspects

280

Stephens Lake

Gillam

MANITOBA

July 22, Fox Lake

Cree Nation:

Suspects’ burned-

out vehicle found

July 28, York Landing:

Unconfirmed sighting

of the suspects

Split Lake

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

“They looked like they were scrounging around, looking for something, and they kind of scuffled away when we seen them,” Mr. Bighetty recalled Monday, as he and Mr. Coelho were back on patrol.

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The men, one clad in a grey sweatshirt and one in a camouflage sweatshirt, bolted into the woods at the sound of the patrol vehicle, Mr. Bighetty said.

The community was put on lockdown as police searched for the suspects, with radio announcements reminding residents every few minutes to stay inside with their doors locked and windows closed.

Northern B.C. killings: What we know so far about the suspects and victims

Many residents barely slept Sunday night. Charlene Saunders, a mother of five, said she was too scared to sleep and didn’t nod off until the sun rose.

“I feel safe now that the police are here,” she said Monday after getting groceries. The store’s hours were shortened because of the lockdown.

Meanwhile, new details are emerging about an encounter with Mr. Schmegelsky and Mr. McLeod on July 22 in Split Lake, Man., one day before their burned-out Toyota RAV4 was discovered in Gillam and they were named as homicide suspects.

RCMP officers load into a local's truck to search York Landing.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

First Nations Safety Officer Sylvia Saunders said the two had driven past the check stop on the gravel road leading to Split Lake. The small community is dry and stops all vehicles to check for alcohol.

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When the Toyota didn’t stop, the two band constables manning the checkpoint hopped in their vehicle and pursued them down a hill with lights on, Ms. Saunders said. The constables pulled the two young men over and informed them that they were supposed to stop at the checkpoint.

“They apologized and said they needed to gas up,” Ms. Saunders said.

One of the constables said they would have to take a quick look inside the vehicle.

From left: Danielle McMaster, Justin Coelho and Travis Bighetty with the Bear Clan Patrol.

CPURTESY TRAVIS BIGHETTY

“They looked toward the [backseat] and they said they noticed camping gear and maps,” Ms. Saunders said. “They didn’t have to do a thorough search; they weren’t asked to step out or anything.”

The constables would recognize the suspects the next day when their images were shared in a group chat. One recalled that Mr. McLeod was driving, and that Mr. Schmegelsky “was looking all paranoid,” Ms. Saunders said.

The encounter at the checkpoint occurred mid-afternoon on July 22; by early the following evening, their vehicle was found torched near Fox Lake Cree Nation, about 170 kilometres away northeast.

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