Seeking to solve the “unique” killing of two tourists in northeastern British Columbia, the RCMP say they are not sure if the victims were targeted or subject to a crime of opportunity.
On Friday, Mounties appealed to the public to contact them if they had seen the victims or an older blue minivan with Alberta licence plates that was found along the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs. The bodies of the victims were discovered on Monday at the location, south of the B.C.-Yukon boundary.
During a news conference, the RCMP sought to allay public fears by highlighting the unprecedented nature of the case.
“We want to assure [the public] that this is a unique circumstance in northern British Columbia,” Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, an RCMP spokesperson, told reporters in Vancouver. She added she could not recall a similar incident in British Columbia in recent years.
“In speaking to the detachment commander and area commander, I can tell you they indicated that this is certainly unusual and now we’re trying to determine whether this is targeted or whether this was a crime of opportunity.”
Dead are 23-year-old Lucas Fowler, a native of Australia who had lately been living in British Columbia, as well as his girlfriend, Chynna Deese, 24, of Charlotte, N.C. “They were exploring beautiful British Columbia,” Sgt. Shoihet said.
The RCMP spokesperson said she could not comment on the cause of death at this time as investigators, some from northern B.C. and others from the Vancouver region, begin working through the evidence at the scene.
Mr. Fowler was the son of a chief police investigator in the Australian state of New South Wales, but Sgt. Shoihet said that would not change the dynamics of the investigation.
“We take every single file that comes into us and we work it as vigorously regardless of who [the victims] are,” she said, adding that Mounties would investigate intensely even if Mr. Fowler wasn’t a police officer’s son. “Every victim to us is a true victim.”
In a statement from Mr. Fowler’s family posted to the New South Wales official Facebook page, Mr. Fowler’s family said it was “devastating” to lose someone such as Lucas, who was so young and travelling the world enjoying life.
“To know his beautiful girlfriend Chynna Deese … also lost her life in this violent event is too cruel,” the family wrote.
“We are now travelling to Canada to be with our boy and to bring him home.”
In a media release, the RCMP said Mr. Fowler’s family “will be accompanied by a number of police officers from Australia. These investigators are here in support of the Fowler family and will not form part of our investigative team here in Canada.”
Asked if she had a message for the family, Sgt. Shoihet said, “We’re absolutely committed to this investigation and this is a priority for us. We understand this is a very difficult time for them.”
A statement posted by Ms. Deese’s sibling, Kennedy, said the North Carolina family was “in shock and heartbroken.”
Sgt. Shoihet said police received a call on Monday related to the van and the couple. “When they got there, they found the two individuals,” she said.
Now, she said, police are trying to determine if the couple were the drivers of the van, as well as gathering information on any other background about the vehicle.
Sgt. Shoihet said there are no indications that the case is linked to any present or past police investigations.