Two people have been shot to death, two have gone missing and a third body has been found over the course of a week in an isolated area of B.C.'s north.
The RCMP say a young couple found near B.C.'s boundary with the Yukon were victims of homicide. Police are also investigating the disappearance hundreds of kilometres away of two Vancouver Island teens, as well as the death of an unidentified middle-aged man with a beard whose body was found near the teens’ torched truck on Friday.
The police will not confirm that the cases are connected, but when asked, said they could be linked. They have released a sketch of a second bearded man whom they consider a “person of interest" after passing drivers saw him talking with the slain couple the night before their bodies were discovered on the side of the highway July 15.
“It’s unusual to have two major investigations undergoing of this nature in Northern B.C. at the same time, so we recognize that there is the possibility that these could be linked,” Sergeant Janelle Shoihet told reporters at the RCMP’s B.C. headquarters in Surrey. “We share the concerns that are being raised given the tragic and unusual nature of the two investigations we have under way.”
At the news conference Monday, Mounties pleaded with the public to share more information while urging campers both foreign and local to make sure they sleep at well-known campsites in the region and check in regularly with family or friends who have detailed plans of their itineraries.
The RCMP also confirmed those investigating the homicides of 24-year-old American Chynna Deese and her 23-year-old Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler are now sharing information with their colleagues in charge of tracking down Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, who were declared missing after their torched truck was discovered Friday south of Dease Lake on Highway 37. These same officers are also trying to identify a heavy-set man in his 50s with grey hair and a beard, whose body was first found nearby and reported to police by a passing driver.
Ms. Deese and Mr. Fowler were discovered shot to death near their van early last Monday, July 15, on the side of the highway linking northern B.C. with the Yukon and Alaska.
Four days later, last Friday, a camper truck carrying two young Vancouver Island men headed to work in the Yukon was discovered on fire by the side of the road nearly 500 km south.
Police are treating the disappearance of the two Vancouver Island teens as missing-persons cases and are hopeful they, or someone that has seen them more recently, will come forward, Sgt. Shoihet said.
The RCMP also provided a composite sketch of a bearded man believed to be travelling southbound in an older Jeep when he was spotted the evening of Sunday, July 14, speaking with Mr. Fowler on the side of the Alaska Highway about 20 km south of Liard Hot Springs, where the Australian man and his girlfriend were found dead from gunshot wounds the following morning. Investigators want to speak with this “person of interest,” Sgt. Shoihet said.
Mounties also appealing for more information from anyone who may have run into the couple before they were killed or any drivers who passed through the region in the past two weeks while recording footage from a dashcam.
“We are mindful that this is an area of seasonal tourists, travellers and campers from abroad as well as motorists and businesses moving from B.C., Alberta, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Alaska,” Sgt. Shoihet said.
According to police, the missing teens were travelling through British Columbia to Whitehorse to look for work and haven’t been in contact with their families for the past few days.
Mr. Fowler’s family has flown to Vancouver and his father, Stephen Fowler, a high-ranking police inspector in Sydney, told reporters Monday it was a surreal feeling speaking out as a victim of crime.
“I may be an experienced police officer, but today I am standing here as the father of a murder victim," he said at the RCMP news conference Monday. “We are just distraught."
He said the Australian government has sent two detectives to Vancouver to liaise with the RCMP, and he is “more than satisfied” they are handling the investigation properly.
Mr. Fowler, a chief inspector with the New South Wales Police Force, said he last spoke with his son within hours of his leaving on a road trip from northern B.C. with Ms. Deese, a North Carolina native with whom his son became inseparable after crossing paths backpacking in Europe.
“It’s the worst-ever love story because we now have two young people who had everything ahead of them tragically murdered.”
With a report from The Canadian Press
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