One year ago, a small northern Manitoba community unwittingly became the focus of national and international attention, as the site of a massive manhunt for two murder suspects from British Columbia.
The bodies of Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, from Port Alberni, B.C., were found
Aug. 8, 2019, in the bush near the town of Gillam, Man., population 1,265.
A two week-long national manhunt took place for the teens, suspected in the killings of Leonard Dyck, a university lecturer from Vancouver, and American tourist Chynna Deese and her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler. The bodies of the three were found in mid-July near highways in northern B.C.
Exactly why the duo chose the unforgiving terrain of northern Manitoba to hide from law enforcement is still unknown, but the ordeal had a lasting impact on Gillam’s population.
“There was a lot of fear and just a lot of unknowns, and I think that was truly the hardest part for our community,” said Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman.
Forman said that the town, for the most part, has returned to normal — mainly because the discovery of the suspects’ bodies allowed residents to sleep a little easier.
“We’re not used to that sort of publicity or crime or anything along that lines,” Forman told 680 CJOB.
“The biggest crimes we have up here are the odd stolen bike — and they’re found pretty quick. It’s a small town, and we’re so isolated, it’s just very odd to have something like that happen here.
“It was a sense of relief that we can kind of be our own town again. Having all the media and the military and the increased RCMP presence… it was overwhelming for a lot of people.”
Forman said the experience left some residents emotionally scarred, but when the visitors left Gillam en masse after the manhunt ended, it offered community members a bit of relief.
“Honestly, when everyone left, it was almost like a sigh of relief — we can breathe again and start to heal.”
Although Gillam was planning a community get-together to mark the anniversary, giving residents a chance to share their thoughts and feelings about the ordeal their town went through a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor said, has scuttled those plans.