SURREY, B.C. — Two teenagers who were thought to be missing are now considered suspects in the deaths of three people in northern British Columbia, setting off a nationwide manhunt for the pair who are considered armed and dangerous.
RCMP said Tuesday Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, are suspects in the shooting deaths of Lucas Fowler of Sydney, Australia, his girlfriend Chynna Deese of Charlotte, N.C., and an unidentified man whose body was found a few kilometres from the teens’ burned-out vehicle.
Later Tuesday, police said McLeod and Schmegelsky may be in Manitoba after a reported sighting in the northern town of Gillam. They had also been seen earlier in northern Saskatchewan, driving a grey 2011 Toyota Rav 4, said Sgt. Janelle Shoihet.
She said anyone who spots the teens, both six-foot-4 inches tall and each weighing around 169 pounds, should not approach them but call 911.
Police initially thought the teenagers were missing but after making an appeal to the public on Monday, investigators received new information that led them to believe they are suspects in all three deaths, Shoihet said.
Shoihet said she could not release details about how investigators determined McLeod and Schmegelsky were suspects. But she said police are taking the “unprecedented” step of urging anyone with information on their whereabouts to come forward.
RCMP also released new photographs of the teens taken recently in northern Saskatchewan. Mounties did not say where they were seen.
A woman who answered the phone at a residence listed under Schmegelsky in Wynard, Sask., declined to comment.
“I have nothing to say at this time. Can’t you just please leave us alone?” she said through tears before hanging up.
No one answered a phone number listed on Schmegelsky’s father’s Facebook page and a person who answered the phone at a McLeod residence in Port Alberni hung up.
Shoihet said the teens might have changed their appearance and may be driving a different vehicle.
She said she could not disclose how the unidentified man found near their burned-out truck had died. Police have released a composite drawing of the heavy-set, middle-aged man with a beard and are still hoping he will be recognized.
RCMP has been in contact with both teens’ families to ask for help finding them, she said.
“I’m certain they’re being impacted by this news,” Shoihet said.
Claudia Bunce, owner of the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store in Jade City, B.C., said the pair stopped in last Thursday, the day before their burned-out truck and the body of the unidentified man was found about 115 kilometres away near Dease Lake.
The staff member who saw the boys was too shaken to speak to a reporter, but Bunce said the boys arrived in the truck and visited the store for free coffee. She said they were on their own and she doesn’t believe they had a conversation with the employee.
“I don’t think they stood out any more than any other teenage boys who were just on the road,” she said. “We’re a very busy store.”
She said the situation is very frightening for everyone who lives in the remote area.
“As you can imagine, the community is very upset about this,” Bunce said. “It’s very rural — beyond rural. We’re on a highway with no cell service. Most of us don’t have power. So it’s unnerving.”
RCMP were at the store on Tuesday gathering hours of surveillance footage and interviewing staff members. Bunce said she didn’t know exactly what time last Thursday the young men were in the store.
Kevin Hackett, RCMP assistant commissioner, said the Mounties could not release any information that would jeopardize a future prosecution or compromise the integrity of the investigation.
“There are many people who we are yet to speak to who have key facts that could build upon the current evidence and information that we have,” he said.
He said the RCMP is continuing to work across the country with law enforcement partners in attempting to track the teens’ movements.
Police have previously said the teens had been on their way to Yukon to look for work.
Fowler’s father, Chief Insp. Stephen Fowler of the New South Wales Police Force, told the media on Monday that the deaths of his son and his girlfriend was a tragic end to a love story between the inseparable couple.
Fowler said Lucas, 23, was having the time of his life and the family was overjoyed when he met 24-year-old Deese, who were a great pair and fell in love.
Police released a composite sketch of a man a witness saw speaking with the couple on the Alaska Highway, also known as Highway 97, on the evening of July 14.
Shoihet said the man was driving an older-model Jeep Cherokee with a black stripe on the hood and police would still like him to contact them.
McLeod and Schmegelsky’s burned-out truck and the unidentified man’s body were found four days later in northeast B.C., more than 470 kilometres away from the first crime scene.