Charla Huber: Manhunts left uneasiness in their wake

A few days ago, I wrote a column on the two manhunts that affected our region this summer. I wrote about the two inmates who escaped William Head Institution on July 7, and the two fugitive teens from Port Alberni who sparked a cross-country manhunt.

I live near the institution, and I wanted to tie together the feelings of unease that I get when I hear of an escape. In the past six years, four inmates have escaped on two separate occasions. I wanted to tie in my experience here with the inmates escaping and the feelings of unease and fear communities have faced during the Canada-wide manhunt.

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I filed my column and a few minutes later, I received an email from the Times Colonist asking if I wanted to update my column. That’s when I knew that the hunt was over. I felt as if the entire country was able to take a sigh of relief. Now the question moves to supporting the people affected by this and moving forward together.

During both these events, I followed media reports and Twitter feeds constantly looking for updates, hoping to hear that they had been caught.

I did feel relief to hear the inmates were captured in Esquimalt a few days later. In the case of Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, they were not caught, but their bodies were found. RCMP are awaiting final confirmation by autopsy. With this ending, there are going to be many unanswered questions and with the attention this story received, there are a lot of people with a lot of questions.

I can’t imagine the feeling of unease people in the communities felt as they feared the pair were hiding in the small towns or rural areas surrounding them.

For us here on Vancouver Island, no matter how far away the events were taking place, the two young men were from Port Alberni, and that made a local connection.

McLeod and Schmegelsky were charged with the death of a Vancouver man near Dease Lake, and listed as suspects in the deaths of an Australian man and a U.S. woman near Liard Hot Springs, and this story has garnered international attention. The pair left a destructive path of devastation and exposed vulnerabilities of people living in remote locations.

There is something terrifying about people on the run who have nothing to lose. It makes the entire situation unpredictable. RCMP, police and community members across our country worked around the clock to bring this manhunt to an end. I am grateful that we have such devoted and brave individuals working to protect our citizens. I often thought about how scary it would have been to be an official searching in the bush for the pair.

These two men left a lot of rural and remote communities feeling vulnerable, and that is just so unfortunate. Three people lost their lives in such a tragic way and their families and friends will live with this forever, and the communities are also left to pick up the pieces.

In my late teens, I travelled between seasonal jobs with a backpack in small remote communities in Alberta and B.C. I hitchhiked in the Rockies and Purcell Mountains and felt that all of my choices were full of excitement. They were some of the best times in my life and helped shape the person I am today.

One of my old friends from those days posted a photo on social media of her and her now husband with a van they travelled to the Yukon in, and in her post, she referenced the senseless murders. Her post and photo were a good reminder that these victims could have been anyone.

The deaths are tragedies that never should have happened. Even with all the unanswered questions we all have, we know they suffered an unimaginable act.

When the manhunt was in full swing, the names and photos of McLeod and Schmegelsky were everywhere, because they needed to be caught. Now that their bodies have been found, I hope their names and photos can fade into the background, and we can devote more time in learning how we can support the victims and communities affected.

Charla Huber is the director of communications and Indigenous relations for M’akola Housing Society and M’akola Development Services.

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