B.C. murder suspects stopped, released by band constables before manhunt: councillor
Band constables stopped two young men suspected in three Northern B.C. murders as they drove through the Manitoba reserve of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Coun. Nathan Neckoway told Global News.
RCMP continue to search for suspects Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, who are charged with the murder of B.C. resident Leonard Dyck. They are also wanted in connection with the murders of tourists Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese, who were found dead along a B.C. highway over two weeks ago.
The pair have since made their way to northern Manitoba. The military and community volunteers are aiding in the search of the remote communities of Gillam and York Landing.
The Tataskweyak Cree Nation is located near Split Lake, about 169 kilometres from Gillam, Man. RCMP have said the last confirmed sighting of Schmegelsky and McLeod was in Split Lake.
Neckoway said the pair was stopped during a routine check for alcohol — a common check since this is a dry community. The constables didn’t find anything amiss, reportedly, and the pair was let go.
“We weren’t aware of their status, of them being wanted,” Neckoway said. “Apparently after they came to our community, that’s when they sent out that wanted [status].”
RCMP would not comment on Neckoway’s comments.
WATCH: The northern B.C. murders: a timeline
Meanwhile, it’s all hands on deck in York Landing, Man., on Monday as RCMP embark on the seventh consecutive day of a manhunt that has captured the world’s attention.
Cpl. Julie Courchaine said multiple resources were sent to the York Landing area on Sunday evening, including an emergency response team and a police canine team, after RCMP received a “credible tip” about the suspects in the northern community at around 5 p.m.
WATCH: RCMP say they haven’t been able to ‘substantiate’ sighting of B.C. suspects
At this point, investigators have not made contact with the individuals, Courchaine said, and “are not yet in a position to confirm these are the wanted suspects.”
She said the goal remains to “safely locate, apprehend and identify the individuals.”
“We understand this is a trying time for the community of York Landing and that there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Courchaine said from Winnipeg.
“We want to remind residents we have a lot of police resources and that our priority is safety. We ask them to remain vigilant, stay indoors as much as possible with their doors locked and to report anything suspicious by calling their local police immediately.”
In a tweet posted Monday afternoon, Manitoba RCMP said the force has not been able to substantiate the tip in York Landing but that resources will remain in the area.
WATCH: RCMP zero in on 2 people matching descriptions of B.C. murder suspects
Police shifted their focus to York Landing after neighbourhood watch volunteers reported seeing two young men who they believed to be scavenging in the area.
In an update posted to Facebook Monday evening, Leroy Constant, chief of the York Factory First Nation, said despite an “extensive” ground search in the York Landing and surrounding areas, the suspects had not been located.
“Emergency Response Team will head back to Gillam and develop a plan moving forward,” Constant wrote. “Major Crime unit has also left the community.”
According to Constant, 10 officers will remain in York Landing overnight.
He says the Bear Clan Patrol, an Indigenous-led neighbourhood watch group, will also remain in the community.
The focus of the nationwide manhunt had previously centred on Gillam, Man. It was there that police found the burned remains of the Toyota RAV4 Schmegelsky and McLeod had allegedly been travelling in, signalling that the fugitives had been in the area.
But a week has passed since their last confirmed sighting in Gillam on July 22.
On Sunday, a new tip led police to York Landing, located about 90 kilometres southwest.
Members of the Bear Clan Patrol spotted two men believed to be Schmegelsky and McLeod rummaging at a dump site there on Sunday.
WATCH: Bear Clan executive director says members reported possible sighting to RCMP
James Favel, the group’s executive director, said volunteers initially thought the men were associated with work at the nearby water treatment plant.
“When they noticed the truck that was associated with those activities wasn’t present, then they kind of went, ‘Uh oh, this might be something else,’” Favel told Global News.
He said the men ran into the bush after being spotted.View link »
“[Bear Clan Patrol volunteers] were careful to get a description of the gentlemen that they saw, their exact location and direction of travel after that,” he said.
RCMP flooded the community with helicopters, swarms of heavily armed officers and police dogs shortly after.
The area is accessible by air or a two-hour ferry that runs only in the summertime, according to RCMP. There is also a rail line that runs about 25 kilometres south of the community.
Searches both on the ground and in the air were conducted throughout Sunday and will continue today.
The Royal Canadian Air Force is also assisting with the search.
Courchaine said the environment in York Landing is just as strenuous for investigators as it was in Gillam.
WATCH: Tips pour in as manhunt wears on for BC murder suspects
“It’s been challenging for the RCMP members up there and all of the resources that are up there searching,” she said.
“This is northern Manitoba so when we get a tip, it’s not like you can just drive there in 20 minutes. We need flights to get our members out there… The logistics of that, the darkness, the terrain, all things that are tough to deal with.”
The unusual amount of police presence in York Landing set off a stream of rumours on social media on Sunday.
RCMP refuted those claims on Twitter. They also asked residents to avoid revealing the location of officers online.
“Despite reports — there is no one in custody at this time,” RCMP wrote.
WATCH: Second military aircraft lands in Gillam as search for B.C. murder suspects continues
Constant also assured citizens late Sunday that no arrests had been made.
“We are urging everyone to remain indoors with windows and doors locked,” he wrote on Facebook. “Patrols of the community will be done on a 24-hour basis.”
As RCMP intensified efforts in York Landing on Sunday, the investigation continued in Gillam.
RCMP said they received more than 200 tips over a five-day span, but none convinced them that the pair had left the Gillam area.
Over the weekend, officers canvassed 250 homes and buildings in Gillam and neighbouring Fox Lake Cree Nation, where one of two burned-out cars believed to have been used by the suspects was found.
Mounties were also combing the rail line, waterways, cottages and cabins for any signs of the pair. They were aided by the Canadian Armed Forces, who deployed two military aircraft, one of which is outfitted with infrared cameras and imaging radar. A Via Rail train passing through Gillam and heading north to Churchill was also searched on the weekend.
When asked if the search in Gillam is over, Courchaine said investigators are still looking “at every possibility.”
RCMP have urged all Canadians to remain vigilant until arrests are made.
They discouraged people from posting tips to social media, saying it can create “substantial delays” in police response and hamper the investigation.
WATCH: Tips pour in as manhunt wears on for BC murder suspects
Courchaine reiterated those concerns, saying people should tell police, rather than posting on social media, if they come across something suspicious or related to the investigation.
“I think that some of the misinformation being spread over social media does create issues,” she said. “We are making a plea to the public to send in tips and to call us — so we do want that.”
The suspects, both of Port Alberni, B.C., are still considered to be armed and dangerous. They also may have changed their appearance, police said.
Previously, RCMP suggested it was possible the duo received help to leave Gillam, possibly by someone who did not know they were fugitives.
—With files from Rebecca Joseph and Hannah Jackson
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