The extensive, nine-day manhunt for two alleged killers in northern Manitoba is shrinking.
With no new leads to pursue, RCMP have decided to “reassess deployment of resources” in the remote community of Gillam, Man.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said investigators covered 11,000 square kilometres in the air and searched more than 500 homes and buildings with no signs of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod.
The longtime friends are wanted in connection with the deaths of three people in B.C.
“Even with this extraordinary effort, we have not had any confirmed sightings of the suspects since the burned vehicle was located,” MacLatchy said at a news conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
“To be clear, we are not ending this search. A number of resources will remain positioned in the Gillam area and will continue the efforts to locate the murder suspects.”
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The search will shrink gradually, she said, beginning this week with the withdrawal of most specialized RCMP and Royal Canadian Air Force teams and assets. Should new information emerge that requires more assistance, they will be “ready to respond.”
WATCH: RCMP scaling back search for B.C. murder suspects in Gillam, Man,
“I think we’ve done everything we can,” she said. “We pulled out all the stops on this thing from the instant we found out about it.”
Manitoba RCMP first became involved in the case on July 23 — the day a burned-out vehicle believed to have been driven by Schmegelsky and McLeod was found about 40 kilometres outside Gillam, near Fox Lake Cree Nation.
From that point on, MacLatchy said, RCMP spared no resource to try and find them.
Police officers combed rail lines, hydro corridors and rivers and trudged through dense forces and brush in search of the two men.
The commissioner said drones and military aircraft were deployed and, in some cases, officers used boats to scour waterways and ATV vehicles to cover rough ground. She said they logged “thousands of hours” of work.
Despite possible sightings and a flood of tips, it became time to reassess.
“I know that today’s news is not what the families of the victims and the communities of northern Manitoba wanted to hear,” said MacLatchy. She offered condolences to the victims’ loved ones who are spread across Canada, Australia and the U.S.
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“But when searching for people in vast, remote and rugged locations, it’s always a possibility that they are not going to be immediately located.”
The location of the hunt has not made things easy for investigators.
“It’s been a long week and they are working very hard in less-than-ideal situations, between the bugs and the swamps and, you name it, it’s difficult,” MacLatchy said.
“I’m hopeful that we have further developments, but at this point, this is where we are.”
Among the resources being withdrawn this week are two Canadian military aircraft.
Those planes, a C-130H Hercules and a CP-140 Aurora, were brought in to fly over inaccessible terrain and provide infrared camera and imaging radar services.
One day earlier, RCMP withdrew resources from York Landing, Man., after a “credible tip” that the pair were spotted there proved fruitless. The sighting was never substantiated, officials said, and no contact was made with the individuals seen scavenging at a dump site.
“We ran that down as far as we could and we didn’t come up with anything,” MacLatchy said.
So far, investigators have sifted through more than 260 tips and canvassed 500 homes in both Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation.
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None of the information collected has convinced RCMP the pair have left Gillam. However, officials have not said whether evidence exists that suggests they remain in the town.
RCMP say it’s still possible someone helped them leave the community without knowing they are fugitives.
MacLatchy said investigators will continue to explore all possibilities, including whether the two are deceased.
“The north part of the province is a very unforgiving place,” she said.
“It’s a very tough place to find somebody who doesn’t want to be found.”
Schmegelsky, 18, and McLeod, 19, are wanted on Canada-wide arrest wants.
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The friends, from Port Alberni, B.C., have been charged in the murder of Vancouver man Leonard Dyck.
They are also considered suspects in the shooting deaths of Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese.
MacLatchy urged the public to continue to be on the lookout and call in tips.
“Something that may seem significant to you may be extremely valuable to our investigators.”