Tourist couple found dead off B.C. highway were ‘happy’ and ‘confident,’ bystanders say
As their blue Chevy van was towed to an RCMP lot in Fort Nelson Sunday, questions continued to swirl about the deaths of an Australian man and American woman in the region last week.
Australian citizen Lucas Fowler, 23, and his girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, a resident of Charlotte, N.C., were found dead on the side of Alaska Highway on Monday, about 20 kilometres south of Liard Hot Springs.
The couple, whose families say were in the middle of a road trip through Canada, were shot where they were found, police said late last week.
John Wright, the tow truck driver who pulled the van from the crime scene to Fort Nelson nearly four hours away, told Global News Sunday he didn’t know he’d be handling evidence in a murder investigation until he arrived on scene.
“[The officers] didn’t let me touch anything, they wouldn’t let me go around to the back of the vehicle until I got it onto the truck to tie it on,” he said.
Once he got to the back of the van, Wright noticed the rear window was smashed, but couldn’t say whether it was shot out. He also couldn’t see anything inside the van.
While Fowler and Deese’s deaths have been deemed suspicious, it’s unclear whether they were an “unfortunate coincidence” or if the couple was targeted, police said.
It’s also not clear if Fowler and Deese were killed inside or outside the van.
WATCH: (Aired July 19) Tourist couple found dead in double homicide on Northern B.C.’s Alaska Highway
Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, RCMP media relations officer for the Lower Mainland District, said Sunday the investigation into Fowler and Lucas’ deaths remains a priority.
In an email, Shoihet could not say definitively how many investigators were working the case, as that number could “fluctuate by the moment depending on needs.”
Hours before the couple were found, Curtis and Sandra Broughton say they came across Fowler and Deese while coming back from a camping trip in the Yukon.
“There was a van broken down on the side of the road, and we pulled over to see if they needed help,” Curtis said, adding that the pair appeared “happy and smiling” despite the setback in their travel plans.
“They seemed like they kind of had it under control. It was mechanical issues with the van. They were having a picnic waiting for the van to unflood, I guess, and try to start it again.”
The Broughtons said they offered Fowler and Deese food and water before driving off, assured that the couple knew what they were doing.
“I’m a mechanic, and they explained the problem perfectly,” Curtis said. “I was impressed. So I was confident they were going to be on their way.”
WATCH: (Aired July 19) B.C. RCMP confirm names of victims in Alaska Highway double murder
It wasn’t until the Broughtons talked to police on Friday that they realized they may have been among the last people to see Fowler and Deese alive.
“We were there to help them, almost like an angel there to help them in a way,” Sandra said. “We were trying to be good and help them, but then that same day the complete opposite of humanity hurt them like that.
“It just blows my mind that on that same highway there could be so much good and then so evil at the same time.”
“The first thing I thought of was their parents,” Curtis said while fighting back tears. “It would be a pretty tough day for the family.”
WATCH: (Aired July 19) Parents, siblings have travelled to Canada following Australian tourist’s death
The victims’ grieving families have since arrived in B.C., including Fowler’s father, who is an active member of the New South Wales Police Force in Australia.
Other investigators from the force accompanied him on the journey and have offered their assistance to RCMP.
RCMP are asking witnesses for dashcam footage from anyone travelling along Highway 97, which is a throughway to Alberta, Yukon and Alaska, after 4 p.m. on Sunday or after 8 a.m. on Monday.
WATCH: (Aired July 19) Tourist found dead in B.C. was son of Australian police officer
Travellers who stopped in the area of Liard Hot Springs or at any campground nearby are also being asked to talk to police.
Marissa McKinley, an employee at the Pink Mountain Campsite in the Peace River area, said she also encountered Fowler and Deese when they stopped at the site days before they were found.
She said the news of their deaths has shaken her sense of security in the otherwise peaceful community.
“I’ve never had that happen where I’m talking to someone and suddenly they’re not there,” McKinley said.
WATCH: (Aired July 19) B.C. RCMP investigate double homicide of tourists along Alaska Highway
“Was it a random person? We don’t really know what to think, so it’s just the uncertainty that’s putting everyone on edge,” she added. “We haven’t heard any solid news from police.”
Police also said Sunday the death of a man found near a burning vehicle south of the Stikine River Bridge on Highway 37 Friday is not connected to the couple’s death.
—With files from Global’s Nadia Stewart and Jill Bennett and the Canadian Press
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