B.C. RCMP said Wednesday the discovery of two bodies believed to be the suspects in a string of murders in northern B.C. has not stopped their investigation into the deaths.
But Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett said it will now be “extremely difficult” to determine what may have motivated Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod to kill three people 470 kilometres apart before fleeing across the country to Manitoba.
WATCH: RCMP say determining motive will be ‘extremely difficult’ after bodies found
That evidence, if found, will be added to a mountain of evidence that RCMP are still sorting through and could take more time to fully analyze, Hackett said.
“We still need to ensure our investigative findings — whether it’s statements, evidentiary timelines, physical or digital evidence — continues to confirm our investigative theory and eliminates any other possibilities or suspects,” Hackett said. “Until that is completed we will not conclude this file.”
Manitoba RCMP announced Wednesday officers located two male bodies near the shoreline of the Nelson River earlier that morning.
That division’s Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said police cannot officially confirm the bodies’ identities until autopsy results are determined.
Both MacLatchy and Hackett said they are “confident” the two bodies are those of Schmegelsky and McLeod.
WATCH: B.C. murder suspects found dead: RCMP
MacLatchy said the two bodies were found in a “dense bush” area, roughly eight kilometres from where the last known vehicle linked to the fugitives, a Toyota RAV4, was found burning in the Gillam area.
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.
Hackett confirmed for the first time Wednesday the Toyota RAV4 was driven by 64-year-old Vancouver man Leonard Dyck, one of three victims found dead in the province’s far north last month.
Schmegelsky and McLeod, both aged 19, were charged with second-degree murder in Dyck’s death. They were also suspects in the shooting deaths of Sydney, Australia native Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese of Charlotte, N.C.
No charges were ever laid against the pair for the murders of Fowler and Deese, with RCMP explaining last month they were still “working hard” on approving them.
When asked why no charges were laid in the days between those comments and Wednesday’s discovery of the bodies in Manitoba, Hackett said RCMP were “anticipating” those charges to be laid, but were still waiting on evidence.
WATCH: RCMP provide details why suspects weren’t charged in Deese, Fowler
“The evidence in this case was relying on forensic evidence and forensic reports, and that sometimes takes time,” he said. “Understandably, until they have the definitive results of those examinations, they’re not in a position to lay charges until that happens.”
The B.C. Prosecution Service said the charges related to Dyck’s death will be abated if it’s concluded Schmegelsky and McLeod are dead, meaning prosecution would not move forward.
The process of laying charges for Fowler and Deese’s deaths will effectively conclude as well.
Police defend response to murders
News of the suspects’ possible deaths ended a cross-country manhunt that 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 all three murders on July 23.
The bodies of Fowler and Deese were found on July 15 near their broken-down van on the side of the Alaska Highway, about 20 kilometres south of Liard Hot Springs. Police later confirmed the couple had been shot dead.
WATCH: The northern B.C. murders: a timeline
Dyck’s body was found on July 19 two kilometres away from a burning red truck on Highway 37 south of Dease Lake. It’s still not known how Dyck died.
Hackett said police do not plan on releasing Dyck’s cause of death “out of respect for the family.”
It took B.C. RCMP until July 22 to admit it was “possible” the two murder scenes were connected.
Hackett said “significant evidence” links the two crime scenes together, but wouldn’t give further details. He also wouldn’t say what evidence links the suspects to Fowler and Deese.
When asked if RCMP could have prevented the subsequent manhunt and potentially even Dyck’s death by responding more forcefully and setting up roadblocks following the deaths of Fowler and Deese, Hackett said police did the best they could with the information they had.
WATCH: RCMP explain process to releasing information in B.C. murders case
“It’s a balance sometimes before speaking with the media and giving erroneous information that could end up complicating matters,” he said. “We want to be sure before we alert the public’s assistance that we are actually looking for the right type of vehicle, et cetera.
“We also want to examine evidence as it comes in,” Hackett added, including “hours” of surveillance video that he said played a role in the investigation. “That takes time.”
Hackett said the likely discovery of the suspects’ bodies makes him “confident” there’s no further risk to the public in northern B.C.
He also said RCMP will continue to provide support to the families of Fowler, Deese and Dyck, as well as the Port Alberni, B.C. families of Schmegelsky and McLeod.
—With files from Maham Abedi