There are no children playing outside Molly and Trevor Beardy’s house. None racing by on bicycles or stickhandling a ball.
The nearby playgrounds are empty, too, on this summer day in Gillam, Man., a small northern blue-collar town on the edge of the Nelson River.
That’s because the town, itself, is on edge as a massive police search for two teenagers wanted in the killings of three people in Northern British Columbia stretches on. Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, were last spotted in the Gillam area on Monday. Police later found the torched vehicle they were believed to be have been travelling in on the outskirts of the remote town.
“I’m scared,” Ms. Beardy said outside her house, her three daughters and husband by her side in the driveway. “I can’t sleep. I’m scared to go to bed.”
She has banned her husband, a power electrician for Manitoba Hydro, from cycling to work until the alleged killers are found, and their youngest daughter, Anna, 6, is under “house arrest.” So are the other children in Gillam, it seems.
“There’s a lot of kids [who live] on the street, but I haven’t seen them for days,” Mr. Beardy noted.
“Everyone feels trapped inside,” his wife added. “It’s a ghost town.”
What has intensified in Gillam, a town of about 1,200 people, is the presence of police. RCMP officers from across Western Canada, with help from the Ontario Provincial Police, are searching an insect-laden landscape of dense bush, swamps and pine forests surrounding the town.
They were on foot with police dogs on Friday and in the sky with drones. Officers combed through abandoned buildings and cabins and stopped vehicles at a checkpoint set up on the main road leading in and out of town. A train that arrived from Churchill was also searched with police dogs.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Twitter late Friday afternoon that he has approved the RCMP’s request for Canadian military aircraft to help out in the search for the two.
After days of searching, RCMP Corporal Julie Courchaine said on Friday police believe it’s possible that someone may have inadvertently helped the suspects leave the Gillam area, which is about 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
“Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky may have changed their appearance. It is possible that some may not have been aware of who they were providing assistance to and may now be hesitant to come forward,” she told the media in Winnipeg.
The pair 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 British Columbia highway and found on July 15. Four days later, the body of Leonard Dyck was discovered on a road 500 kilometres away. On Wednesday, RCMP charged Mr. Schmegelsky and Mr. McLeod with second-degree murder in Mr. Dyck’s death.
Cpl. Courchaine said all Canadians need to be vigilant and on alert for the teen suspects.
Despite the theory that they may have left the region, Cpl. Courchaine said police are continuing their search of the area around Gillam.
She said investigators will be conducting a door-to-door canvass of Gillam and the nearby Fox Lake Cree Nation over the next 72 hours to gather tips and information.
While police are asking the country to be vigilant, it is Gillam and Fox Lake that remain on highest alert. Residents who were accustomed to leaving their doors unlocked are now bolting them shut. Some residents are too afraid to leave their homes and go to work. And many of those with hunting guns are keeping them close at hand.
At the Co-op gas station, convenience store and the Trappers Shack, where souvenirs and liquor are sold, employees are no longer working alone, general manager Karen Donnellan-Fisher said. A makeshift wanted poster of Mr. McLeod and Mr. Schmegelsky is taped to the door.
“We’re making sure that people have rides to and from work instead of walking, especially later in the evenings,” Ms. Donnellan-Fisher said.
Gillam is a town with familiar and unfamiliar faces. Many of its residents are employed by Manitoba Hydro, which operates the province’s largest hydro dams. But there are many contract workers from other parts of the province and country here, too, building roads and sewer systems and putting final touches on a recreation centre that is scheduled to open soon.
The region’s wilderness and pristine lakes also attract hunters and anglers. And hunters and trappers such as Dwayne Forman, the mayor of Gillam, know how punishing the surrounding area’s terrain, wildlife and weather can be.
The ground beneath the forest is soft and littered with fallen branches. You can sink knee- and hip-deep into the earth in an instant. Mr. Forman recalled that it took him and his wife about 45 minutes to hike 500 metres to track a moose last year.
“It is brutal, brutal territory out here if you’re going to be trekking out there without the proper gear and equipment,” he said.
Mr. Forman, 44, hasn’t slept much since the manhunt for Mr. McLeod and Mr. Schmegelsky zeroed in on his town, bringing dozens of police officers as well as journalists from across Canada and Australia.
Mayor for two years, Mr. Forman has lived in Gillam for most of his life and wears other hats. He runs a snow-removal business and is a district lead for Manitoba Hydro. He’s also the president of the curling club.
“The mood is a mixed bag of different emotions,” he said of his town. “Some people are holing themselves up in their house and staying secure that way. Others are taking it in stride and trying to live a life of normalcy, trying not to change anything.
“But everybody, as a whole, they know what is going on. They know that extra security has to be taken.”
Mr. Forman said the uncertainty and unknowns are weighing on residents. Everyone hopes the suspects are found soon.
“The worst-case scenario is if they never find them,” resident Cheryl Friesen said. “I would like a clean resolution that they are either caught, or found, and it’s over, instead of always wondering if they’re in the bush, because there are so many places to be and hide.”
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