A team of specialized RCMP searchers combed the shoreline and brush of the Nelson River on Friday, scouring for anything that might have belonged to two fugitives who disappeared into the dense wilderness of Northern Manitoba.
With metal detectors and in rugged boots, six police searchers and a major crimes investigator headed by boat to the remote area where two bodies were discovered two days earlier. They later examined the woods surrounding the ditch where a grey Toyota RAV4 was found burning on July 22, near Fox Lake Cree Nation.
The Manitoba RCMP believe the bodies are of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, who were suspects in the deaths of American Chynna Deese and her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, and Vancouver resident Leonard Dyck, all killed in Northern B.C. last month.
The discovery ended an intense manhunt that had lasted more than two weeks. The cause of death has not yet been released. The chief medical examiner’s office in Manitoba is performing autopsies.
The RCMP have said they found several items linked to Mr. Schmegelsky, 18, and Mr. McLeod, 19, who were from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. They have not disclosed what those items are and, on Friday, police found one more.
Sergeant Paul Manaigre, who participated in the search, said the item was spotted in wet, muddy ground.
“We’ll provide it to the investigators to have a look at to see if it’s related,” said Sgt. Manaigre, who is also an RCMP spokesman. No additional items of interest were found near the torched SUV, he said.
Members of the RCMP search and rescue team were also trying to map further the route the fugitives travelled. The vehicle that police believe they set on fire was abandoned close to Sundance Creek by Provincial Road 290.
It’s possible the pair followed the creek to the Nelson River, Sgt. Manaigre said.
“That’s what we’re still trying to determine,” he said of the fugitives’ path. “... We focused on an area with a little creek bed.”
Locals and police describe the terrain as harsh and rugged. After traversing it for several hours, Sgt. Manaigre said it was more difficult than he imagined.
“The terrain is unforgiving. There are some spots where you either have to walk in the river or you got to climb up. It would be very difficult to navigate these areas,” he said.
The Nelson River is long and wide, hugged by steep, sandy cliffs, brush-covered shoreline and dense forests. The river snakes for nearly 650 kilometres, from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay. It is treacherous in spots, especially near the rapids.
The discovery of a damaged rowboat on the shore of the Nelson River on Friday drew a concentrated police search. Police say they don’t know if the fugitives used the rowboat. After intensely scanning the area for four days by air, water, foot and ATVs, and with the assistance of a professional tracker, officers found two bodies about eight km from the torched Toyota SUV.
Sgt. Manaigre would not disclose whether any weapons have been found or how long police believe the two men have been dead.
The RCMP in Manitoba said it is up to the Mounties in British Columbia, who are investigating the three homicides, to release information on that and on how the men died.
B.C. RCMP Staff Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, a spokeswoman for the force, said in an e-mail exchange that it is unclear when those results will be available, but that they will be disclosed in a news release.
Meanwhile, the B.C. coroners’ office said it is investigating the three homicides. Such investigations are routine in deaths in the province, to determine how, where, when and by what means individuals died, spokesman Andy Watson said.
Mr. Watson said it’s too soon to say if a coroners’ inquest will be called. Such an inquest, he said, would be held if the chief coroner decides it would be beneficial for issues such as addressing community concern, or helping find information about the deceased or the circumstances of a death.