TORONTO – Two men suspected of killing three people in remote areas of British Columbia were found dead next to a river in Manitoba, Canadian police said Wednesday.
The announcement marks the conclusion of a widespread manhunt after the tragic slaying of three people who crossed the teens’ path in mid-July: an American woman, her Australian boyfriend and an unrelated man from Vancouver.
The teenagers, Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam Mcleod, 19, were on the run amid an enormous search by Canadian authorities. The manhunt left the town of Gillam, which is so remote that it has only one road in and out of it, on edge.
At the local co-op convenience store, gas station and souvenir shop, employees were not permitted to work alone, said general manager Karen Donnellan-Fisher, who had to reduce working hours because there were not enough employees to cope with the change.
She said that she feels “an overwhelming sense of relief” and hopes that it won’t be long before a sense of normalcy returns.
“Are people going to be apprehensive and nervous, more cautious around strangers? I think so and that’s normal,” she said. “But having an actual outcome and not being left hanging is the best possible outcome.”
In July, a young couple was traveling south of Liard Hot Springs along the Alaska Highway. It’s a remote area of northern British Columbia wilderness popular for its scenic mountains and prairies. But their journey was cut short. On July 15, 24-year-old Chynna Deese from Charlotte, North Carolina, and her 23-year-old Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, were found dead next to their blue 1986 Chevrolet van.
At first, information was sparse. But days later, a bizarre twist led authorities to confirm the teens as suspects in the deaths. They found a body, Leonard Dyck of Vancouver, near a burned-out Rav-4 that the teens were driving.
After that, authorities in the town of Gillam, Manitoba, found a second vehicle, originally driven by Dyck, engulfed in flames. The teens had been using it.
In late July, Canadian police charged the two teens with second-degree murder for the death of Dyck. They were also named as suspects in the deaths of Deese and Fowler. Canadian authorities then launched an intensive search in the rugged and unforgiving wilderness of eastern Manitoba.
On Wednesday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that items linked to the teens were discovered Friday near the Nelson River in Manitoba, allowing authorities to narrow their search for the two fugitives. On Wednesday morning, two bodies were found in dense brush, about a kilometer from where the items were found and eight kilometers from Dyck’s burnt-out vehicle near Gillum.
“At this time, we are confident that these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia,” RCMP Manitoba Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy wrote in the announcement. “An autopsy is being scheduled in Winnipeg to confirm their identities and to determine their cause of death.”
Finally, the weeks-long search was over.
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said that residents have experienced a “roller coaster of emotions” as law enforcement officials zeroed in on the blue-collar town, canvassing homes and searching abandoned buildings and rail lines.
When the RCMP announced last week that it would be scaling down the search for the fugitives there, residents said at a community meeting on Saturday that they felt unable to let their guards down and that the uncertainty was still weighing on them, said Forman, 44, who has been mayor for two years.
“I’m hoping today’s announcement goes a long way in helping everyone cope, to ease their anxieties and to alleviate some of the stresses that have been created,” he said. “It almost feels like closure for us, but I don’t know how those families find closure. I hope they do.”
British Columbia RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett said the investigation was far from over and that British Columbia RCMP would continue working on the case. Authorities could not confirm a motive for the killings, and said it would likely be hard determine, but noted they were still searching the area near where Schmegelsky and McLeod were found.
Hackett also said that police had updated the families of Deese, Fowler and Dyck on the latest developments.
“The RCMP will continue to offer support to them understanding that the traumatic losses that they have gone through do not end with the deaths of these men whom we believe to be our suspects,” Hackett said.
“We are just distraught,” Stephen Fowler, Lucas Fowler’s father, said after a police news conference in July. “This has really torn two families apart. Our son Lucas was having the time of his life traveling the world. He met a beautiful young lady. And they teamed up, they were a great pair, and they fell in love.”
Deese and Fowler met in 2017, at a hostel in Croatia. Deese had asked Fowler to color with him. She later said she knew he was special by the way he shaded in the lines, British said. After that, they began traveling around the world together. This trip through northern British Columbia was one of many adventures the couple had embarked upon.
British said he thinks about his sister’s “infectious personality.”
“She just brought new things, new experiences, new people that items linked to the teens were discovered Friday near the Nelson River in Manitoba, allowing authorities to narrow their search for the two fugitives. On Wednesday morning, two bodies were found in dense brush, about a kilometer from where the items were found and eight kilometers from Dyck’s burnt-out vehicle near Gillam.