Manitoba RCMP said officers located two male bodies, believed to belong to the suspects, near the shoreline of the Nelson River. The discovery was made at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said at a press conference that she is “confident” the bodies belong to the suspects, but cannot confirm until autopsy results are determined.
MacLatchy said the two bodies were found in a “dense bush” area, roughly eight kilometres from where a burnt vehicle was found days earlier.
WATCH: RCMP remove bodies believed to be B.C. murder suspects from area near Nelson River in Manitoba
The bodies were first transported by boat and then loaded in a trailer.
They were then taken to the airport in Gillam so they could be transported to Winnipeg for autopsy. The bodies were transported separately, each in an RCMP plane.
She explained that RCMP found a “critical piece of evidence” on Friday that allowed them to focus on certain areas and carry out a search on foot.
“Following this discovery, we were at last able to narrow down the search. We immediately sent in specialized RCMP teams to begin searching nearby high probability areas,” MacLatchy said.
WATCH: RCMP believe they have located bodies of B.C. murder suspects Bryer Schmegelsky, Kam McLeod
On Saturday, RCMP had said they found “several items” directly linked to the suspects along the banks of the Nelson River but did not provide details on what the items were.
In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, MacLatchy said now that bodies believed to be the suspects have been located, homicide investigators will work to try to understand exactly what took place.
“Here in Manitoba we have forensic identification specialists who are on the scene and will be going over it very carefully to collect whatever evidence they can that would be of help in that homicide investigation,” she said.
“And the bodies we found will be sent to Winnipeg for autopsy where we can officially confirm identity and cause of death.”
WATCH: Manitoba RCMP Assistant Commissioner ‘confident’ bodies found are those of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod
Schmegelsky and McLeod, two friends from Port Alberni, B.C., both aged 19, were charged with second-degree murder in the death of 64-year-old Vancouver man Leonard Dyck.
They were also suspects in the shooting deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese of North Carolina.
News of the suspects’ possible deaths ended the cross-country manhunt, which had involved the RCMP, local police forces and the Canadian military.
Police had originally described Schmegelsky and McLeod as missing persons before naming them as suspects in the murders on Tuesday, July 23. They were wanted on a Canada-wide warrant.
WATCH: RCMP say suspects travelled in some of most remote areas of Canada possibly to ‘avoid detection’
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, B.C. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett said while officers continue to investigate, it will be “extremely difficult” to determine what the motive was.
“Regarding the motive, it is going to be extremely difficult for us to ascertain definitively what the motive was,” he said. “Obviously we will not have the opportunity to speak with these individuals
“And again, the examination of the area where they were located today is still being dealt with and searched, so there may be additional items that could help in that regard – identifying a motive, et cetera, but we don’t have that information yet.”
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“This is early days for the recovery of the two suspects,” he said. “We want to bring back all of the information and all of the evidence that we have — our investigators will go through that meticulously — and we will be in a better position perhaps in the future, in the near future to talk about all of the linkages, perhaps, that existed.”
However, according to Hackett, there is no evidence suggesting a link between the suspects and victims.
He says officers are waiting for additional information that Manitoba RCMP may have gathered at the scene where the bodies were recovered, which could assist in their investigation.
He did confirm, however, that there is “significant evidence” linking the suspects to both crime scenes.
“This is early days for the recovery of the two suspects,” he said. “We want to bring back all of the information and all of the evidence that we have, our investigators will go through that meticulously, and we will be in a better position perhaps in the future, in the near future to talk about all of the linkages, perhaps, that existed.”
Hackett said while the investigation is ongoing, he is “confident” there is no ongoing risk to the public, and said there is no evidence suggesting the suspects were linked to any other incidents in B.C.
He also said the RCMP are not actively looking at any other suspect in connection with the case.
The manhunt focused largely on Western Canada, and specifically northern Manitoba, but extended to Ontario after some residents reported seeing “two suspicious males.”
The pair were last confirmed to be spotted in Gillam, which is about 740 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on July 22.
Much of the search efforts had focused on Gillam, with RCMP and military resources deployed through the swampy, challenging terrain of northern Manitoba.
Police briefly shifted focus to the remote community of York Landing, which is about 200 kilometres southwest of Gillam, on July 28 after receiving a tip. But the lead was later determined to be unsubstantiated.
During Wednesday’s press conference, MacLatchy said she hopes the communities affected by the manhunt can rest a little easier.
“I know it has been so very difficult and I hope today’s announcement can begin to bring some closure,” she said.
“I want to thank the communities and leadership of Gillam, Fox Lake and York Landing. Your lives have been disrupted, many of you lived with uncertainty and fear, but you were resilient, came together as communities and helped our officers get the job done.”
WATCH: BC RCMP say investigation does not stop with discovery of bodies
She also thanked RCMP and police officers, and military members involved in the search.
“This was a search that could not have been successfully achieved without the help of our partners and Canadian Armed Forces — from RCMP employees who came in from across the country and multiple private partners.”
In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said he feels “absolute relief” for the communities of Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation.
“It’s been stressful, it’s been a rollercoaster up and down,” he said. “I myself am glad that this has finally come to a conclusion.”
Forman says he is hopeful the community can now return to a feeling of normalcy.
“Growing up here I never locked the doors and I never needed to or felt the need to,” he said. “I’m hoping that everyone can feel that sense of security come back to the community in a short time. I’m hoping now that the suspects are theoretically found, I hope that brings a sense of relief in the community and we can move on.”
In a press release issued Wednesday, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said she is “relieved” the search has ended, and thanked law enforcement for their work.
“On behalf of the City of Port Alberni, I would like to express my thanks to members of the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces who undertook a major operation across multiple provinces over the past few weeks to find suspects in the deaths of three individuals in northern British Columbia,” she wrote.
Minions said although she is relieved, she recognizes that the discovery made by the RCMP is “difficult news for the families of the two suspects.”
“My thoughts are also with the families of the victims who have suffered unimaginable loss,” she wrote. “This has been a tragic series of events, and it has been a difficult time for everyone, including the residents of our community.”
Minions called on the public to “offer each other support and understanding” in the weeks to come.
“Our thoughts are also with the community of Gillam and neighbouring areas in Manitoba as they start to return to their regular lives,” she wrote. “What they have gone through over the past few weeks is hard to imagine.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale praised law enforcement for their work.
WATCH: Goodale says he can’t say what cost of B.C. murders investigation will be
“They have conducted a massive operation here with extraordinary efficiency and effectiveness,” he said.
“The police and all of the people who worked with them have done an extraordinary job in dealing with a monumental challenge,” he continued.
Goodale said he hopes the announcement will help the families of the victims achieve a sense of closure.
“And hopefully, as well, there will be a better sense of security and public safety in the communities that have been affected,” he said.
In an internal email obtained by Global News, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she was “proud of the excellent police work” the force had done to “bring this situation to an end.”
WATCH: Goodale says B.C. murders investigation was ‘very challenging, complicated’
“Our RCMP personnel worked 24/7, logging more than 4,500 investigation hours during this search for the suspects,” Lucki wrote. “We searched more than 11,000 square kilometres of terrain across Northern Manitoba, scouring rail lines, trains, hydro corridors, winter roads, waterways, coast line and vast areas of forest and trails.”
Lucki said the RCMP deployed “all resources and tools” at its disposal, including airplanes, helicopters, boats, ATVs, police dogs, armoured vehicles, drones and underwater recovery teams.
According to Lucki, the force also followed up on more than 250 tips.
“To the officers and employees involved in the complex homicide investigations and extensive search efforts—you exemplify the professionalism and dedication Canadians know they can expect from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Lucki wrote.
“Your relentless work has offered relief and peace of mind not only to the families of victims and communities affected, but to all Canadians vigilantly watching their own communities across the country.”