By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — A massive manhunt is over after two bodies believed to be British Columbia murder suspects were found in dense brush in northern Manitoba.
RCMP assistant commissioner Jane MacLatchy said the bodies were discovered Wednesday morning near the shoreline of the Nelson River, within a kilometre from where several items linked to the two young men were found last week.
She said autopsies will be done to confirm the identities but that the discovery should bring relief to families of three people slain in northern B.C. and people in Manitoba communities where officers have been searching for nearly two weeks.
“It’s huge to be able to hopefully give some people an opportunity to exhale and to hopefully, eventually go back to normal and not being afraid of who’s out in the woods anymore,” MacLatchy told reporters in Winnipeg.
Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, from Port Alberni, B.C., were facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of Leonard Dyck, a university lecturer from Vancouver.
Dyck’s body was discovered along a highway pullout two kilometres south of Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19.
The RCMP have said McLeod and Schmegelsky were also suspects in the shooting deaths of American tourist Chynna Deese and her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler. Their bodies were found along a highway near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.
Police initially treated McLeod and Schmegelsky as missing persons when their charred vehicle was found not far from Dyck’s body. The pair had told family and friends they were leaving their home of Port Alberni, B.C. to find work.
But investigators later deemed them to be suspects and details surfaced about their use of video games. One game account showed Schmegelsky was a frequent player of a shooting game called Russia Battlegrounds, and both young men’s Facebook pages were connected to an account with a modified Soviet flag as its icon.
RCMP also said they were investigating a photograph of Nazi paraphernalia sent to another user by Schmegelsky, who was also pictured in military fatigues brandishing an airsoft rifle and wearing a gas mask.
The manhunt for the pair stretched across the Prairies into northern Manitoba when a second burned-out vehicle they were travelling in was found July 23 near the town of Gillam.
Helicopters and military aircraft aided in searching the surrounding wilderness. MacLatchy said the discovery of the items helped direct the search to a specific area, and the bodies were found nearby — about eight kilometres from where that vehicle, a Toyota RAV4, was located.
“Our officers knew that we just needed to find that one piece of evidence that could move this search forward,” she said.
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said it’s not a surprise the suspects were found dead.
“This is non-forgiving terrain … there was a lot of speculation this was likely to be the outcome.”
People in the community have been on an emotional roller-coaster, he added, and are relieved the manhunt is over.
“The closure is here for Gillam and the Fox Lake area. But the closure for the victims’ families is far from over.”
Deese’s brother, British Deese, told The Associated Press that the family needed time to process the news that the suspects’ bodies had been found.
“We are speechless,” he said in a text message, declining further comment.