The Canadian Armed Forces have joined the nationwide manhunt for two Port Alberni teens charged with murder.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed on social media late Friday that the RCMP had requested and received immediate approval for military aircraft support in the search for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18.
The police dragnet remains focused on the remote community of Gillam in northern Manitoba, even as police acknowledged Friday that the pair might have changed their appearance and left the area.
Manitoba RCMP said they will conduct door-to-door searches in Gillam and the Fox Lake Cree Nation this weekend in hopes of generating tips on the whereabouts of the men.
The two friends were last seen in the area on Monday and there have been no confirmed sightings of them anywhere else.
But RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine told a news conference that investigators are open to the possibility they may have left the area.
“Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky may have changed their appearance,” she said. “It is possible that someone may not have been aware of who they were providing assistance to, and may now be hesitant to come forward.
“I want to reiterate the importance of contacting police immediately.”
Courchaine stressed that “all Canadians” should remain on the lookout for the men and call police or 911 immediately if they are spotted.
She cautioned the public, however, against disseminating rumour and “false information,” such as a photo circulating online that some mistook for a picture of one of the suspects.
“If you have some information, send it to us, so that we can confirm it,” she said. “Don’t start spreading things that aren’t verified.”
Courchaine said police continue to check out more than 120 tips received in the last few days. They’re also searching “high probability” areas of interest in the rough terrain around Gillam, including abandoned and vacant outbuildings.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were last seen in the Gillam-area on Monday, before the discovery of a burning Toyota Rav4 in which they were reportedly travelling.
The vehicle was found on fire near the Fox Lake Cree Nation reserve north of Gillam. Courchaine said Thursday that there had been no reports of stolen vehicles in the area that could be attributed to the teens and investigators believed they were still in the area.
Manitoba RCMP have set up a highway check-stop and flooded the area with officers from the western provinces and Ontario. The force’s major-crime unit, emergency-response team, crisis-negotiation team, police dogs and aircraft have been deployed to assist with the search around Gillam, which is 730 kilometres north of Winnipeg and has a population of about 1,265.
McLeod and Schmegelsky are charged with second-degree murder in the death of 64-year-old Leonard Dyck of Vancouver. Dyck’s body was found at a highway pullout two kilometres from where the teens’ burned-out Dodge pickup truck was found on Highway 37 near Dease Lake on July 19.
The pair are also suspects in the killings of 23-year-old Lucas Fowler of Sydney, Australia, and 24-year-old Chynna Deese of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Their bodies were discovered July 15 beside the Alaska Highway, 20 kilometres south of Liard Hot Springs. Fowler and Deese had been exploring northern B.C. in Fowler’s 1986 blue Chevrolet van with Alberta licence plates, which was found at the scene.