Fire-damaged SUV found in northern Manitoba linked to suspects, RCMP confirm

Update: Mounties have confirmed that a burned-out vehicle found near Gillam, Manitoba, is linked to two Port Alberni teenagers wanted in connection to three deaths in northern B.C.

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were last seen in Gillam, Manitoba.

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A burned out vehicle was found on the nearby Bird reserve, according to Fox Lake Cree First Nation Chief Walter Spence.

RCMP confirmed Wednesday afternoon that it was the vehicle 18-year-old Schmegelsky and 19-year-old McLeod had been travelling in.

Police are hunting for the pair after they were named as suspects in the deaths of a tourist couple on the Alaska Highway whose bodies were found on July 15, and the death of an unidentified man discovered close to the teenagers’ burning truck near Dease Lake on July 19.

Spence said an all-night patrol was planned for Tuesday evening.

“The RCMP are carefully conducting their work with a large presence and I would like to ask all community members to report anything of concern directly to RCMP.”

Further updates will be posted here.

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On Monday, police said the Alberni teenagers were missing, but after making a public appeal for help in finding them, investigators received new information that led them to believe the two are suspects in all three killings, said RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet.

Bryer Schmegelsky’s father said he can’t square the allegations against his son with the “good kid” he knows. “I don’t know what to think anymore,” said Alan Schmegelsky. “I’m in disbelief. I didn’t see any signs of violence.”

He said he found out his son was a suspect in the homicides via a text from a reporter in Ontario while at work as a carpenter. Schmegelsky said he was trying to keep busy and distract himself from his son’s disappearance when he heard the news.

Although his son was interested in airsoft guns — an imitation firearm that shoots small pellets at much slower speeds than real guns — Schmegelsky believes his son had never shot a real gun. He said Bryer would go into the woods with friends to play strategy games and simulate combat. Schmegelsky bought him a camouflage outfit for the game. He was glad his son was getting outside and spending time with friends.

“His buddies all had them and that was their outdoor video game. You know, a real-life video game,” he said.

On Tuesday, police said Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky might be in Manitoba after a reported sighting in the northern town of Gillam, about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

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Deputy mayor John McDonald said people in Gillam are also making sure their vehicles are locked while the RCMP search for the pair.

He said extra officers have been brought in for a search focused about 70 kilometres northwest of the town near Fox Lake Cree Nation.

If McLeod and Schmegelsky are there, he said, they are in country known for its thick bush, swamps and pesky insects, and where it's easy to get lost.

"If they are wandering around in the bush, they couldn't have picked a worse time because the sandflies came out three days ago and they're just voracious," he said Wednesday.

"I'm quite sure they'll be more than happy to have someone find them."

The pair were previously seen on Sunday in the community of Meadow Lake in northwestern Saskatchewan, two days after their truck was found. They were driving a grey 2011 Toyota Rav 4, Shoihet said.

Investigators released photos of the pair that were taken there.

McLeod, Schmegelsky
RCMP released new images of 19-year-old Kam McLeod, left, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, on Tuesday, July 22, 2019. The two men are considered suspects in three killings in northern B.C.

Shoihet said she could not release details about how investigators determined the two men are suspects. But she said police are taking the “unprecedented” step of urging anyone with information on their whereabouts to come forward.

Shoihet said anyone who spots the teens, who are both six-foot-four-inches tall and weigh about 170 pounds, should not approach them but call 911.

She said they might have changed their appearance and might be driving a different vehicle.

The investigation in northern B.C. began on July 15 after the bodies of 24-year-old Chynna Deese of Charlotte, North Carolina and 23-year-old Lucas Fowler of Sydney, Australia, were discovered by a road worker on the side of the Alaska Highway, about 20 kilometres south of Liard Hot Springs.

RCMP said the two had been shot and killed on July 14 or 15. The couple, who met in Croatia two years ago, had been travelling through B.C. in a van that belonged to Fowler.

Speaking at an RCMP press conference in Surrey on Monday, Lucas’s father, Stephen Fowler, called the couple “a great pair.”

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New South Wales police chief inspector Stephen Fowler pauses while speaking at a Royal Canadian Mounted Police news conference, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday July 22, 2019. Fowler's son Lucas, a 23-year-old Australian who, along with his girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, of Charlotte, N.C., were found dead in Northern British Columbia last week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

“It’s a love story that’s ended tragically. It’s the worst-ever love story,” said Fowler, a police officer in Australia.

Four days after Fowler and Deese’s bodies were found, and 470 kilometres away, Dease Lake RCMP discovered a burning truck and camper belonging to McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, and the body of an unidentified man two kilometres away.

Shoihet said she could not disclose how the unidentified man found near the burned-out truck died. Police have released a composite drawing of the heavy-set, middle-aged man with a beard and are hoping he will be recognized.

Claudia Bunce, owner of the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store in the northern B.C. community of Jade City, said the pair stopped at the store last Thursday, the day before their burned-out truck and the body of the unidentified man was found about 115 kilometres away.

The staff member who saw the two was too shaken to speak to a reporter, but Bunce said they arrived in the truck and visited the store for free coffee. She said they were on their own and she doesn’t believe they had a conversation with the employee.

“I don’t think they stood out any more than any other teenage boys who were just on the road,” she said.

“We’re a very busy store.”

She said the situation is very frightening for everyone who lives in the remote area.

“As you can imagine, the community is very upset about this,” Bunce said. “It’s very rural — beyond rural. We’re on a highway with no cell service. Most of us don’t have power. So it’s unnerving.”

RCMP were at the store on Tuesday gathering hours of surveillance video and interviewing staff members. Bunce said she didn’t know exactly what time last Thursday the young men were in the store.

The RCMP has been in contact with both teens’ families to ask for help finding them, Shoihet said.

Someone who answered the phone at the McLeod family home on Tuesday told the Times Colonist that they were not ready to speak publicly.

Alan Schmegelsky said he had a good relationship with his son in the last two years, after not seeing him for many years following a separation from Bryer’s mother. He said he was in contact with his son nearly every day.

Schmegelsky has been trying to contact him since discovering he was missing, but the messages have not been delivered.

Schmegelsky said he travelled to Port Alberni every other weekend to visit his son.

He had already reached Nanaimo on the afternoon of Friday, July 12, when he saw a text from his son that said the two friends were heading to Alberta. He said the message was sent about 8:40 a.m. that day.

Bryer Schmegelsky had been talking about leaving Port Alberni in a few months, but his father said he wasn’t expecting him to go so soon. McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky had only been working at a Port Alberni Walmart for about five weeks when they left.

Alan Schmegelsky said it was his son’s first job and he had just gotten his second paycheque. He spent his first cheque on a new suit.

Alan Schmegelsky said he has no idea where the teenagers might be heading. Bryer doesn’t have a driver’s licence, his father said.

“I’m worried to death about my kid. He’s not even a man,” Alan Schmegelsky said. “This is not the kid I know.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press and Alaska Highway News

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