By RENATA D'ALIESIO, ANDREA WOO, IAN BAILEY
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
YORK LANDING, MAN. VANCOUVER VANCOUVER -- RCMP are withdrawing from York Landing in northern Manitoba after failing to locate two men wanted in a national manhunt for the killings of three people in British Columbia. One day after dozens of officers flooded into the remote community acting on a tip that the pair had been seen at the local dump, police concluded the two men likely weren't there.
Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, continued to elude capture one week after they were named suspects in the deaths of a university lecturer and a young tourist couple. The incident commander on the case said Monday that RCMP are moving some resources back to Gillam, Man., where they had previously focused their efforts.
"There are sightings all over Canada and each one has to be followed up and police use a significant amount of resources, which takes away from another part of the investigation," Inspector Kevin Lewis said.
"It's challenging when you don't have a start point, right? And here we are trying to figure out where these fellows may be and, yeah, it's hard to answer."
The manhunt for the two suspects shifted to northern Manitoba on July 23. There has not been a confirmed spotting of the two men since the grey Toyota RAV4 they were driving was found on fire in a ditch near Fox Lake Cree Nation on July 22. They are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck and are also suspects in the fatal shootings of Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend, Chynna Deese.
On Sunday, members of the Bear Clan Patrol, a Winnipeg-based, Indigenous-led security group, were doing their last round when they spotted two men at York Landing's dump, an open space teeming with black bears. There are small mounds of dirt, trash such as plastic bags and a clothes washer, and scraps of food.
Dozens of officers descended on the community Sunday. A search into the night resumed Monday with canine units, helicopters, a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules aircraft, drones and an RCMP boat patrol. Residents were advised to stay indoors with the windows closed and doors locked.
But the pair was not found. Insp. Lewis said authorities want to have tactical resources ready to deploy in multiple directions if need be. By Tuesday morning, all of the officers will be gone from York Landing.
"Right now, I have almost all my tactical resources in York and there doesn't seem to be any immediate threat there now so I am splitting my deck there, so speak," Insp.
York Factory First Nation Chief Leroy Constant said late Monday afternoon in a Facebook post that the emergency response team was heading back to Gillam to "develop a plan moving forward."
"Major Crime Unit has also left the community. Ten officers will remain in York Landing overnight ... They will be departing on the 8 a.m. ferry."
At the dump earlier on Monday, the RCMP combed the area with sniffer dogs as a drone surveyed from above. Officers dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying rifles scanned the bush and dump on foot. A helicopter circled overhead.
But by midafternoon, the Mounties said in a tweet that, "After a thorough and exhaustive search, RCMP Manitoba has not been able to substantiate the tip in York Landing."
York Landing is a community of about 500 people, accessible by ferry from Split Lake or by foot by following power and rail lines through the dense, insectladen bush. It is about 100 kilometres southwest from Gillam, but rough terrain and limited roads easily double the journey.
At first, Travis Bighetty, a coordinator for the Bear Clan Patrol, and Justin Coelho, a fresh volunteer, thought the men might be contract workers or residents. But then they noticed there was no other vehicle around. No one in the community goes to the dump on foot because of the threat posed by the bears.
"They looked like they were scrounging around, looking for something, and they kind of scuffled away when we seen them," Mr. Bighetty recalled Monday, as he and Mr. Coelho were back on patrol.
The men, one clad in a grey sweatshirt and one in a camouflage sweatshirt, bolted into the woods at the sound of the patrol vehicle, Mr. Bighetty said.
The community was put on lockdown as police searched for the suspects, with radio announcements reminding residents every few minutes to stay inside with their doors locked and windows closed.
Many residents barely slept Sunday night. Charlene Saunders, a mother of five, said she was too scared to sleep and didn't nod off until the sun rose.
"I feel safe now that the police are here," she said Monday after getting groceries. The store's hours were shortened because of the lockdown.
Meanwhile, new details are emerging about an encounter with Mr. Schmegelsky and Mr.McLeod on July 22 in Split Lake, Man., one day before their burned-out Toyota RAV4 was discovered in Gillam and they were named as homicide suspects.
First Nations Safety Officer Sylvia Saunders said the two had driven past the check stop on the gravel road leading to Split Lake. The small community is dry and stops all vehicles to check for alcohol.
When the Toyota didn't stop, the two band constables manning the checkpoint hopped in their vehicle and pursued them down a hill with lights on, Ms.Saunders said. The constables pulled the two young men over and informed them that they were supposed to stop at the checkpoint.
"They apologized and said they needed to gas up," Ms.Saunders said.
One of the constables said they would have to take a quick look inside the vehicle.
"They looked toward the [backseat] and they said they noticed camping gear and maps," Ms. Saunders said. "They didn't have to do a thorough search; they weren't asked to step out or anything."
The constables would recognize the suspects the next day when their images were shared in a group chat. One recalled that Mr. McLeod was driving, and that Mr. Schmegelsky "was looking all paranoid," Ms. Saunders said.
The encounter at the checkpoint occurred midafternoon on July 22; by early the following evening, their vehicle was found torched near Fox Lake Cree Nation, about 170 kilometres away northeast.
Members of the Manitoba RCMP search near the York Landing, Man., garbage dump on Monday for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, who are charged with second-degree murder and are suspects in two other killings.
MELISSA TAIT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
RCMP officers stand along a road near York Landing, Man. The Mounties had received a tip about the two fugitives being in the area, but by midafternoon tweeted that the force 'has not been able to substantiate the tip' in the region.
PHOTOS BY MELISSA TAIT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
York Landing, Man., is a community of about 500 people, accessible by ferry from Split Lake or by foot by following power and rail lines through the dense, insect-laden bush.