Though the massive hunt for two B.C. fugitives is scaling down in northern Manitoba, experts say participation by the public will remain key to bringing Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky to justice.
The RCMP said Wednesday they are reducing their presence in the area, which since July 23 has led officers and military personnel on a taxing search through rough terrain and the small communities of Gillam, Fox Lake Cree Nation and York Landing.
The search spanned an equivalent of 11,000 square kilometres — half the size of Lake Winnipeg, or nearly the size of the state of Connecticut, said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy on Wednesday.
“We’ve done everything we can,” MacLatchy said Wednesday, warning the public to remain vigilant and keep in mind the men may have had help escaping the area.
“Everything is possible at this stage.”
As the search dissipates, the RCMP will rely on the public for leads, according to former officers.
“They will have to surface,” said retired officer Steve Marissink of McLeod and Schmegelsky, who are wanted in connection with three deaths in B.C.
“I’m confident that, with the community and the media keeping this in the public awareness, that they will be located and hopefully taken into custody without any further harm to anybody.”
‘Reload and wait’
Peter German, a lawyer and former deputy commissioner with the RCMP, said the exhaustive northern search had to move on eventually.
The search, which yielded some 300 tips, was “a good exercise,” he said. “And they’ve now struck the right tone in downsizing.”
“Without any solid leads in the last week it would be very hard to justify keeping resources up there,” he said. “The RCMP have literally checked everything that they believe they can check.”
Marissink said area residents likely have nothing to fear at this stage. The priority for McLeod and Schmegelsky, assuming they’re alive, would be to lay low — not to go out of their way to hurt people, he said.
“If these individuals are still in the area they will be noticed by the people who live there,” said Marissink, who spent 10 of his 24 years with the RCMP as a major crimes unit investigator.
“It’s time to, I guess, reload and wait for the next sighting and then hit that area with the same resources.”
‘Into thin air’
Marissink said one of the more confounding details of the case is the burnt-out vehicle found near Gillam on July 22, which investigators confirmed was driven by the men as they made their way east from B.C.
“It struck me as odd that they would burn transportation without having alternate transportation, unless it was their aim to be in that area and to choose options that only they would know about,” he said.
“The fact that they seemed to have disappeared into thin air at this time suggests that they [may have] had assistance on the ground in that area.”
The RCMP have said there aren’t any recent reports of missing or stolen vehicles in northern Manitoba that have been linked to the case.
Though investigators hope a tip could help them home in on the men, it’s not easy to predict where the next credible sighting could be.
“They seem to be doing things that are counterintuitive,” German said, describing the apparent decision of the men to drive to a remote Manitoba community only to set their vehicle ablaze.
“What the motivation is for all of this I don’t know, and what is driving them, I don’t know.”