Teen fugitives leave police in dust
They've managed to dodge a military scale manhunt involving scores of officers, sniffer dogs, helicopters, drones, thermal imaging, armoured trucks and next-level tracking and surveillance equipment.
Now fears are growing that Canadian highway murder spree suspects Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, may no longer be hiding in dense bushland surrounding the tiny and remote community of Gillam, in northern Manitoba, where authorities have been searching for two days.
The pair have been charged with the murder of a 64-year-old Canadian botanist and are suspects in the double homicide of Australian policeman's son Lucas Fowler, 23 and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24.
An army of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), along with reinforcements from as far afield as Alberta and Ontario, descended on the one-road town of just 1,200 people after the teens torched their last known getaway car at a nearby First Nations reserve on Monday.
An Emergency Response Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, the RCMP Major Crime Unit and additional district resources have been deployed to the district, police said.
They have received more than 80 tips and asked the public to stay away from the pair if spotted.
It comes as heavy rain hampers the search for the suspected killers. Lucas Fowler's father, NSW Police Inspector Stephen Fowler visited the ranch were his son had been living and working to collect his belongings.
Christophe Weder told The Daily Telegraph: "Lucas' father came today. It was very emotional and he felt some comfort in knowing that Lucas spent the last months of his life in such a special place."
On Thursday, police said they believe the suspects are still hiding in the dense bushland, saying there had been two confirmed sightings. Locals are said to be "freaking out" in the normally quiet town where people don't lock their doors.
But despite authorities' claims McLeod and Schmegelsky had effectively trapped themselves in the vast swathe of heavily forested, bear and insect-infested swampland that encircles Gillam, there are other ways out besides the single, 300km stretch of road that connects it to the rest of Manitoba.
"There's a CN (Canadian National Railway) line that passes through Gillam and right past where the burnt Rav4 was found," Canadian archaeologist Tyler Cantwell told news.com.au in a message.
"My pure speculation - but it's what I would do - is that they hopped on the back of a train and headed back West."
Others say the Schmegelsky and McLeod could have jumped on a train to Churchill - a port on Hudson Bay known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World and, to a lesser extent, the Beluga Whale Capital of the World.
The port is around 270km from Gillam and popular with tourists, who flock to the pristine harbour to join whale and bear spotting boat and air tours.
If the suspects make it that far, they could easily steal a boat or another car. The ever present threat of polar bears means that locals never lock their vehicles. Authorities advise anyone under attack to jump into the nearest car and shut themselves inside.
DID THE TEENS PULL OFF ANOTHER CARJACKING?
The murderous trail of destruction has played out in terrain so isolated there is often no internet or phone coverage, with some areas in northern Manitoba unable to even access 911.
As a result, sightings of the pair have been 24 to 48 hours old by the time they are communicated, allowing the suspects to stay several steps ahead of authorities.
There are also unconfirmed reports the teens are travelling in a car with Manitoba number plates stolen from a Gillam man and speculation they may have even been involved in a suspected abduction and carjacking in Regina, Saskatchewan on Tuesday.
The carjacking took place 15 hours after the Rav4 was found ditched at Gillam - which is a 13 1/2 hour drive from Regina.
"Officers were sent to a parking lot in the 400 block of Albert Street where a person had been abducted at gunpoint just after noon," Regina Police said in a statement.
"A vehicle pulled into the parking lot followed by a small black car. A person got out of the black car with what appeared to be a gun and pointed it at the driver of the first car.
"The driver was forced into the black car with the suspect. Both cars then drove away. No shots were fired. A black car or smaller SUV with four doors and a roof rack was involved in this incident."
Only one of the teens, McLeod, can reportedly drive but a scenario involving Schmegelsky forcing a motorist to drive at gunpoint with McLeod at the wheel of a second car is not beyond the realms of possibility.
An appeal has been made to the public for information regarding the vehicle, its owner or occupants and CCTV footage released.
"Police believe there are at least two suspects involved in this incident, which does not appear to be a random act 'at this time'."
A local newspaper reported the RCMP did not believe the incident was linked to McLeod and Schmegelsky's alleged murder spree but observers have pointed out the RCMP initially failed to link the teens to the two crime scenes or the crime scenes to each other.
Others have speculated police are withholding information from the public to prevent tipping the suspects off.
On Friday, police said they had confirmed two sightings of the teens in the area since Monday but said no reports of stolen cars were linked to them.
This happened tues morning about 15 hrs after they torched the car in Gillam, enough time to get there. They were announced as suspects tuesday morning as well. The one teens mother also lives in Regina.https://t.co/ZL0pXSPngy— Louis (@Louis52068605) July 25, 2019
RCMP Corporal Julie Courchaine told reporters in Winnipeg on Thursday locals could expect a "heavier police presence" in the Gillam area while the manhunt continues.
A fleet of armoured SWAT team trucks set off for Gillam on Thursday afternoon to join the search.
Hundreds of officers, equipped with police dogs, drones and other high tech surveillance equipment, have been combing the hostile scrub for clues to the teens' whereabouts. The father of Schmegelsky, Alan, said the pair had been "training in war" in the woods and were masters of camouflage.
But even as the reinforcements were being called in, there was an unconfirmed sighting of McLeod and Schmegelsky at Split Lake, some 85km north of the current search area.
Petrol station worker Michelle Keeper told CBC News she believes she served the pair on Monday at about 4pm. It was not clear what vehicle they were travelling in at the time or whether the encounter happened before or after SUV was found dumped at Gillam.
Ms Keeper said McLeod paid for $20 worth of fuel and Schmegelsky asked if they could consume alcohol in the First Nations community, which is dry.
"The guy who paid for the gas - he was quiet, he didn't say anything, he was just looking down," she told CBC.
"They seemed like, I don't know, normal. I'm just so nervous right now thinking about it."
Ms Keeper said she didn't realise she had served the fugitives until she saw the RCMP's updated suspect photographs the following day.
She said McLeod was still sporting a short beard and Schmegelsky was wearing the same camouflaged shirt seen in the police alert.
The teens have been charged with one count of second degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck and are suspects in the murders of Mr Fowler and Ms Deese.
The couple were found dead alongside their campervan on the Alaska Highway in British Columbia on July 15. They had been travelling through northern British Columbia en route to Alaska on what was meant to be a dream roadtrip.
On July 19, the body of Mr Dyck, a botanist, was discovered almost 500km away on Highway 37 - two km from the abandoned and burning wreckage of McLeod and Schmegelsky's Dodge pick-up truck.
Authorities initially failed to link the three incidents, classifying the teens as missing persons up until Tuesday, when they were officially named suspects in the three murders.
The teens, who have been inseparable since primary school, have eluded capture ever since, leading police on a 3000-plus km chase across three provinces and up into the wilderness of northern Manitoba.