The mayor of a northern Manitoba town that has been the focus of a massive hunt for two homicide suspects says he’s “baffled” after a tip about a possible sighting in a nearby community turned up nothing.
“I guess we’re back to square one,” said Dwayne Forman, mayor of Gillam.
Forman had hoped that fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, suspects in three homicides in northern B.C., would be caught after RCMP received a tip that two people matching their descriptions had been seen near the dump in York Landing, 90 kilometres away.
Heavily armed police, with assistance from the military, started scouring York Landing on Sunday, but never abandoned their search around Gillam. Despite “thorough and exhaustive” effort, police found no sign of the two men and began withdrawing from the community on Monday.
“The RCMP did not see the individuals, we were just investigating the tip,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine said in an email.
It’s very unfortunate that they slipped away.
— Bear Clan co-ordinator James Favel
The RCMP said Tuesday it has cancelled its checkstop of every vehicle on the road leading into Gillam.
Officers also concluded the door-to-door canvassing of more than 500 homes in Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation.
Police have received more than 260 tips in the last week, according to a news release, but none has established any sightings of the pair outside the Gillam area.
Schmegelsky, 18, and McLeod, 19, have been on the run for more than a week. They’re suspects in the killings of Australian tourist Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend, Chynna Deese, and are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck.
Their burnt-out vehicle was found northeast of Gillam on July 22. That same day, constables with Tataskweyak Cree Nation, also known as Split Lake, stopped the suspects in their vehicle at a gas bar as they drove through the community. The suspects weren’t recognized until later.
While the police were searching in York Landing, the town’s roughly 500 residents were told to stay inside and lock their doors. The remote community is only accessible by air or by a two-hour boat ride.
Ten officers remained in York Landing overnight, and were expected to leave Tuesday morning, Chief Leroy Constant of York Factory First Nation, which is based in York Landing, posted on Facebook.
“RCMP have notified us to remain vigilant and to report any information or tips you may have directly to the authorities,” Constant wrote.
Forman advises residents in his community to do the same, although there have been no official orders to do so.
“I just ultimately want everyone to still stay safe and vigilant to make sure that they still keep an eye out. You don’t know if they’re in the area or not,” the mayor said.
He also said he’s happy with the work the RCMP have been doing.
The tip that brought the search to York Landing came from members of the Bear Clan, a Winnipeg community patrol group.
Though the sighting was unsubstantiated, Bear Clan co-ordinator James Favel stands by the men who reported it.
“It’s very unfortunate that they slipped away, but I do trust that my guys said they saw them. I believe that they saw them,” he said.
“The fact that they got away is not really the point here. Our mandate was to keep those guys out of the village and we met our mandate.”