2019 Northern British Columbia murders

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2019 Northern B.C. murders
LocationNorthern British Columbia, Canada
DateJuly 14, 2019 (2019-07-14)
July 19, 2019 (2019-07-19)
Attack type
Shooting
Deaths5 confirmed (including both suspected perpetrators)
VictimsLucas Fowler
Chynna Deese
Leonard Dyck

The 2019 northern British Columbia murders were a spree killing that took place on the Alaska Highway and Stewart–Cassiar Highway in the Canadian province of British Columbia between July 14, 2019 and July 19, 2019. Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are believed to have killed Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese, before murdering Leonard Dyck within a six-day time frame.[1]

By July 23, 2019, McLeod and Schmegelsky had reportedly traversed 3,200 kilometers stretching across four Canadian provinces in ten days.[2] A Canada-wide manhunt for the suspects was initiated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).[3] Between July 23 and August 7, McLeod and Schmegelsky had died by suicide by firearm near the Nelson River, northeast of Gillam, Manitoba.[4][5]

Details[edit]

Shootings[edit]

Australian citizen Lucas Fowler of New South Wales and his girlfriend, American citizen Chynna Deese of North Carolina, were taking a three-week trip around Canada.[6] On July 14, 2019 their 1986 Chevrolet van had broken down along the Alaska Highway, 20 kilometres south of Liard Hot Springs.[7] At approximately 3:20 PM PST, Curtis Broughton, a mechanic, along with his wife Sandra, had stopped to check on the couple.[8] Broughton explained, “They seemed like they kind of had it under control. It was mechanical issues with the van. They were having a picnic waiting for the van to unflood, I guess, and try to start it again”.[9] Curtis was assured that the couple knew what they were doing, and saw them "happy" and "smiling" before leaving them shortly after.[10] At approximately 7 AM on July 15, the bodies of Fowler and Deese were discovered by Trevor Pierre, a highway worker.[11]

Both victims were found in a ditch close to their van, with their bodies having visible gunshot wounds and laying five feet apart from one another.[11] Both were laying north, with their heads facing west.[12] The van's back doors were left open with their windows smashed, according to Pierre.[12] On 19 July, a burnt-out pickup truck was discovered south of the Stikine River Bridge on Highway 37.[13] The body of Vancouver resident Leonard Dyck was found two kilometres south of the vehicle fire, with "similar circumstances" as Fowler and Deese (whose bodies were found 470 kilometres away).[14]

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were initially reported as missing persons, as it was revealed that they had been operating the pickup truck before it was destroyed.[15] On July 22, the RCMP believed there had been a possible link between the missing persons and murder victims in northern B.C.[16]

Manhunt[edit]

Kam McLeod
BornApril 12, 2000
Diedc. July 23, 2019 - August 7, 2019 (age 19)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Body discoveredAugust 7, 2019
Bryer Schmegelsky
BornAugust 4, 2000
Diedc. July 23, 2019 - August 7, 2019 (age 18 or 19)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Body discoveredAugust 7, 2019

On July 23, a burning Toyota RAV4 was found near Fox Lake Cree Nation, north of Gillam, Manitoba, believed to be driven by the missing pair.[17] Following this discovery, the RCMP sought second-degree murder charges against McLeod and Schmegelsky in relation to the northern B.C. killings.[18] After the case had received nation-wide attention, a resident of Cold Lake, Alberta reported helping two younger males who had their Toyota RAV4 stuck on July 21.[19] Later that same day, the pair was captured by video surveillance at a Meadow Lake store in Saskatchewan which was turned into police days later.[20]

Eyewitnesses have also recalled spotting McLeod and Schmegelsky twice in the Gillam area of Manitoba, on July 22.[21] On the same day, McLeod and Schmegelsky were stopped for a routine alcohol check by Tataskweyak Cree Nation band constables in Split Lake, Manitoba.[22] The pair was eventually released, marking the interaction with band constables as the last confirmed sighting of the suspects, as of July 22.[23] By 24 July, the RCMP had deployed the Emergency Response Team, crisis negotiation team, air services and canine units to Gillam and its surrounding area.[24] A checkpoint had been set up at the intersection of Provincial Roads 280 and 290, with heavily armed officers canvassing the area.[25] The RCMP had acknowledged the 'inhospitable' environment with dense forests, swampy terrain, and wild animals.[26] After almost a week of unsuccessful search attempts for the murder suspects in Gillam, the RCMP received a new tip on July 28.[27] Travis Bighetty and Justin Coelho of the Indigenous Bear Clan Patrol spotted two persons with "matching descriptions" of the wanted men at the York Landing community landfill, 200 kilometres southwest of Gillam.[28]

By 29 July, the RCMP confirmed that they were unable to locate the suspects, reassuring the public of their continued presence in the Gillam and York Landing communities.[29] On 30 July, Northeast Ontario Provincial Police received a report of two suspicious men with matching descriptions of McLeod and Schmegelsky near Iron Bridge, east of Sault Ste. Marie.[30]

On July 31 at 10:30 AM, OPP James Bay Detachment was notified that the fugitives may have been travelling eastbound in a white vehicle on Highway 11 near Kapuskasing, carrying a firearm.[31] Officers were unable to locate the subjects in both incidents.[32]

On the same day, nine days after the manhunt began, Manitoba RCMP announced that it was "scaling back" their search operation after being unable to locate the suspects despite inspecting over 11,000 square kilometers and searching more than 500 homes in Gillam, York Landing and their surroundings.[33] By 1 August, more unconfirmed locations of the suspects have been reported to the OPP including Sudbury, West Nipissing, North Bay and Parry Sound. On the other hand the manhunt has sparked the creation of Facebook groups theorizing the suspects’ next moves while also caused online trolls to emerge, tease police and to encourage the suspects in evading search efforts; one of those was an entity known as Thomasabrahamutoyo who alleged that the suspects were his friends and taunted that they are "smarter than you think".[34]

A breakthrough came on 2 August when Gillam-based tour guide Clint Sawchuk reported to the RCMP that he had seen a blue sleeping bag at the edge of the Nelson River near where it enters Hudson Bay.[35] A fresh search of the river by the RCMP on 3 August found a damaged rowboat on the northern shore of the Nelson River below the Lower Limestone Rapids, about 65 km north-east of Gillam. Near the rowboat were some other items which the RCMP linked to the suspects. This location was 9 km north-east of where the burning Toyota RAV4 had been found on July 23. An underwater search by the RCMP close to where the rowboat was found did not find anything further.[36]

On August 7, RCMP in northern Manitoba reported that they believed they had found the bodies of the two B.C. fugitives, Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky in thick bush close to the Nelson River about one kilometre west of where the damaged rowboat had been found.[37] By August 12, an autopsy report from Winnipeg had confirmed that the two bodies found belonged to the wanted suspects and that they had died due to self-inflicted gunshot wounds.[38] Two handguns were located near the bodies and were to be tested for a ballistic match to the three murders.

Response[edit]

Canadian Armed Forces[edit]

On 26 July, a formal request from RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki was approved by Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale and Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan for assistance in locating the perpetrators.[39] By 27 July, an RCAF 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron CC-130H Hercules aircraft was deployed from Winnipeg for aerial reconnaissance to the Gillam area, while under RCMP command.[40][41] The aircraft utilized its high-thermal detection gear in the search.[42]

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs[edit]

On July 27, 2019 an Indigenous-led neighbourhood watch group arrived in Gillam, at the request of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.[43] They offered volunteer support and services to the residents of the town, amid the high-risk manhunt in the area.[44]

Misconception[edit]

Highway of Tears[edit]

The initial reports of the murders in northern B.C. have promoted confusion among some foreign media outlets.[45] The locations of the murders had been incorrectly identified as taking place on, or near the infamous Highway of Tears.[46] The stretch of highway is known for its decades-long unsolved murders and disappearances of indigenous women.

References[edit]

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