The Royal Canadian Air Force is joining the hunt for two fugitive teens suspected of triple murder, officials said yesterday, backing up a vast search operation unfolding in the country’s remote northeast.
The suspects, identified as Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, have been on the run for more than a week.
Authorities say they believe the two are behind the killings of 23-year-old Australian Lucas Fowler and his 24-year-old American girlfriend, Chynna Deese, as well as of Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old Canadian.
Since Tuesday, the village of Gillam, near Hudson Bay, has been at the epicentre of an intense manhunt involving tracker dogs, a drone and armoured vehicles.
The area features dense, sometimes nearly impenetrable forests.
Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale announced the air force involvement, which followed a request from Brenda Lucki, head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
In a statement late on Friday, Goodale said he and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan had accepted the formal request “for a Canadian Armed Forces aircraft to aid in the search near Gillam, Manitoba.”
Police had said earlier on Friday they could not rule out the possibility that the two young men had altered their appearances and slipped out of the region, possibly with the unwitting help of an area resident.
But the RCMP spokesman for Manitoba province, Corporal Julie Courchaine, emphasised to reporters that searchers were continuing to focus on the area around Gillam, going door-to-door in hopes of tracking down the pair.
The fugitives wound up in this village, some 1,000km north of Winnipeg, the Manitoba capital, after an epic 3,200km chase from British Columbia on Canada’s east coast.
The surrounding region is particularly inhospitable, with wild animals including bears, and swampy areas infested with ferocious mosquitoes.
Locals say conditions are brutal, and that the suspects, if on foot and unprepared, would have difficulty surviving for long.
There have been two reported sightings of the wanted teens in Gillam, but none since Monday.
The two young men have been formally accused of the murder of Dyck, a botany professor, and are suspects in the killings of Fowler and Deese, whose bodies were found along a highway in northern British Columbia.
The teenagers were initially considered as missing after their car was found torched on July 19. But police then discovered Dyck’s body near another burned-out vehicle believed to have been used by the pair.
The father of one of the teens, Alan Schmegelsky, said his son was “on a suicide mission,” deeply troubled since his parents’ divorce in 2005.