By Moira Warburton
(Reuters) – Canadian police said on Wednesday they found two bodies that they believe are of the fugitive teenage boys charged with killing a university lecturer and suspected in the murders of two tourists in British Columbia.
Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, both from Port Alberni, British Columbia, fled from British Columbia to Manitoba and were the target of an intense three-week manhunt.
Police declined to disclose how the two died, saying that they would wait for autopsies to confirm their identities and cause of death.
The pair was charged with second-degree murder in July of Leonard Dyck, 64, a botany lecturer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. They are also suspects in the murders of Chynna Deese, 24, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Lucas Fowler, 23, from Sydney, Australia.
The bodies of McLeod and Schmegelsky were found near Gillam, Manitoba, 1 km (0.6 mile) from where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) discovered “significant evidence” on Friday and 8 km (5 miles) from where McLeod and Schmegelsky’s burning car was found on July 22, police said.
The evidence, which the RCMP declined to describe, proved to be “critical” in finding the bodies, Jane MacLatchy, RCMP assistant commissioner in Manitoba, told a news conference in Winnipeg.
Searchers had to contend with difficult terrain and thick forest. Linking arms and traversing ground, as is normally done in search operations, was out of the question, MacLatchy said.
Authorities were relieved that the alleged killers were found, she said, and hoped it ended a difficult period for victims’ families and the Manitoba communities of Gillam, Fox Lake and York Landing that were at the center of the manhunt.
“It’s huge to be able to give people a chance to exhale and to go back to normal and not be afraid of who’s out in the woods anymore,” she said.
RCMP amassed a heavy presence around Gillam after the gray Toyota RAV4 driven by Schmegelsky and McLeod was found in flames on the highway between Gillam and Fox Lake, a small indigenous community to the north, on July 22.
At its peak, the investigation included members of the Canadian air force and military, as well as drones, dogs, emergency crews and RCMP major crime units.
The search weighed heavily on the tiny, remote communities of northern Manitoba as residents suddenly found themselves host to police and military personnel.
John McDonald, deputy mayor of Gillam, said the town was relieved the search was over, and leaders of the Cree indigenous communities in York Landing and Fox Lake requested trauma counseling for their members.
“It may take some time for people to recover from the trauma caused by this lengthy manhunt,” said Grand Chief Garrison Settee, leader of an indigenous advocacy group in Manitoba.
British Columbia RCMP said at a press conference that the investigations into the deaths of Dyck, Deese and Fowler continued.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; editing by Denny Thomas, Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)