YORK LANDING, Man. — Doors were locked, roads were empty and people were on edge, said a chief in northeastern Manitoba as armed police officers searched the area for two suspects in killings in British Columbia.
“The manhunt is on here,” York Factory Chief Leroy Constant said Monday.
“Until these suspects are caught or our area deemed safe, that fear will still remain.”
RCMP received a tip Sunday just before 5 p.m. local time that two men matching the descriptions of Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, were spotted near a dump in York Landing, Man., a small community along the Nelson River.
The duo are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia professor Leonard Dyck. They are also suspects in the fatal shootings of Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, whose bodies were found on the Alaska Highway in northern B.C.
Members of the Bear Clan Patrol, an Indigenous-led neighbourhood watch group, reported the sighting to police, but said the two men took off into nearby woods when they were seen. Their identities have not been verified.
Despite extensive efforts, the tip could still not be substantiated by Monday afternoon, RCMP said in a tweet. But the search was continuing.
Constant said there are some 30 officers in the remote community of 500, along with a dog team, emergency response teams, helicopters and armed searchers on all-terrain vehicles.
The last confirmed sighting of the two suspects was a week ago in Gillam, Man., another remote community roughly 90 kilometres northeast of York Landing.
Before that, the pair were also spotted in Split Lake, Man., a community about 170 kilometres west of Gillam.
Nathan Neckoway, a councillor for Tataskweyak Cree Nation at Split Lake, said the two men fuelled up at a local gas station. They also went through a checkstop and were questioned by band constables who did not know at that time the men were murder suspects.
The men had camping gear and maps in the back seat of their vehicle, Neckoway said in an online message.
“This is scary to hear how easily these guys were travelling from Western Canada and now in our territory.”
Watch: Here’s a timeline in the manhunt for murder suspects. Story continues below.
York Landing is only accessible by air or a two-hour ferry crossing in the summer. There’s also a rail line that runs 25 kilometres south of the community.
Constant said he would be surprised if the pair made it to his community on foot because the northern terrain is treacherous.
“You would have to go many miles to reach anything,” he said.
“One of the challenges is it’s heavily wooded and we are primarily surrounded by water … there’s only limited areas they can access.”
A burned-out Toyota RAV4 investigators said the suspects were travelling in was found last week near Gillam.
Police said on the weekend that they had received more than 200 tips over the course of five days, but none convinced investigators that the pair had left the bug-infested and bog-strewn landscape.
“It’s northern Manitoba so it’s challenging terrain, lots of forest, lots of muskeg, waterways, everything like that.”
Cpl. Julie Courchaine said Monday that the York Landing tip was credible and that’s why resources have been focused on that area. Isolation, distance, difficult terrain and darkness have made the search difficult, she added.
“It’s northern Manitoba so it’s challenging terrain, lots of forest, lots of muskeg, waterways, everything like that,” she said.
“However, our number one priority again is to find these individuals.”
A Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules aircraft equipped with high-tech thermal detection gear joined the search over the weekend. Police also used drones and tracking dogs while officers went door to door checking every home and abandoned building.
People in York Landing were encouraged to remain vigilant, stay indoors and keep their doors and windows locked, said Courchaine.
“We are still looking at every possibility in this investigation,” she said.