What cop found in teen suspects’ car
The First Nations police officer who unwittingly released triple murder suspects Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod after a routine alcohol check has disclosed what he found when he searched their car.
Tataskweyak Cree Nation band officer Albert Saunders has also revealed the teens were wearing different clothes to those shown on their wanted posters - none of it camouflage gear.
Constable Saunders pulled over Schmegelsky, 18, and McLeod, 19, in Split Lake, northern Manitoba on July 22 after they failed to stop at checkpoint just outside the community, which is dry.
The encounter happened just 24 hours before Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) issued a nationwide alert naming them suspects in the murders of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, and botany professor Leonard Dyck, 64.
The alert shows CCTV images of Schmegelsky buttoned head-to-toe in camouflage gear while McLeod sports a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the words: "A wild Cathulhu appears".
The logo is a feline spin on "Cthulhu" a shapeshifting character created by cult horror, fantasy and sci-fi writer HG Lovecraft, who was known for his love of cats.
"I told them that you know you're supposed to stop … and then they said sorry about that, the driver said sorry, and then I asked them where they came from and they said Vancouver," Constable Saunders said.
He said the pair apologised repeatedly, saying "sorry, sorry" before standing aside to let him look inside the vehicle - a Rav 4 SUV.
And what he found - or didn't find - was surprising: "Just two boxes and a suit".
Bombshell reports on Tuesday claimed Constable Saunders had seen camping equipment and several maps inside the car - indicating the teens were prepared for the elements and in for the long haul.
But in an interview with CBC's Austin Grabish, the officer denied having sighted anything of the kind.
"I didn't see no camping gear, no maps, no weapons, no drugs or alcohol," he told the outlet.
Constable Saunders said the young men matched photos of the suspects the RCMP have released, but the two were wearing different clothes, adding no one was in camouflage.
"They seemed paranoid when I was talking to that guy there, the driver."
When Constable Saunders saw the RCMP alert with the teens' photographs the following day, he felt disbelief wash over him as he realised the search could have had a very different outcome.
"(It's) just crazy, like something else would have happened to us if we continued searching," he told CBC.
"The next (thing) I was going to do was tell them to get out their vehicles. I was going to search them in there … I just let them go. Maybe something else would have happened. I'm not sure."
The band constable said he saw the two suspects leave while he was stationed at the checkpoint.
"Not even an hour later they left here towards Gillam."
We now know that McLeod and Schmegelsky went on to buy $20 worth of fuel at a local gas station, where they were served by attendant Mychelle Keeper at around 4pm.
Like the band constable, Ms Keeper did not recognise the pair until the following day when she saw the updated poster naming the pair as suspects in three murders.
Puzzlingly, she told police the pair were dressed in exactly the same clothes they were wearing in the CCTV vision, contradicting Constable Saunder's account.
Sometime that evening, the SUV was found abandoned and alight in dense bush near a rail line at a First Nation reserve 70km from Gillam.
Volunteer firefighter Ty Blake, who was called to extinguish the SUV, presumes the vehicle ran out of fuel.
He said it appeared the fugitives were so keen to flee they left behind camping equipment and canned sardines or oysters that would help them survive in the bush.
"There were a few pots and pans in there, a few canned foods, a crowbar," Mr Blake told AAP.
However, there has been speculation the food and camping gear belonged to University of British Columbia professor Leonard Dyck, 64, who is believed to have been the car's owner.
McLeod and Schmegelsky have been charged with the second degree murder of the botanist, whose body was found 2km from the suspects' burnt-out Dodge on July 19 - four days after Ms Deese and Mr Fowler turned up dead on the Alaska Highway.
Just like everyone else who has crossed paths with the teens and lived to tell the tale, Mr Blake, his fellow firefighters and police at the scene did not realise at the time who or what they were dealing with.
Chills went down their spines the next day when the RCMP confirmed the SUV was the fugitives' getaway vehicle.
"When you sit and think about it, they may not have gone far and been sitting nearby in the bush," Mr Blake said.
Top Canadian survival Dave Arama has predicted McLeod and Schmegelsky would have been unlikely to survive more than a few days in the wilderness unless they stumbled across a hunting cabin or another type of building.
In winter, temperatures drop to below -20C with the windchill pushing it down to the -50s.
But even the current summer months the temperatures have dropped below 10C and there have been rainstorms.
The fugitives are very tall and thin, each standing 193cm tall and weighing just 77kg, making it less likely they could survive a week outside without food and appropriate clothing.
Mr Arama said they would need to be wearing waterproofed wool and microfleece gear or risk getting eaten alive by insects.
The camouflage attire Schmegelsky is seen wearing in video surveillance footage was inadequate and the T-shirt McLeod was in was a certain death sentence, he said.
Mr Arama said he has had groups in the wilderness for nine or 10 days who on average lost 9kg to 23kg "just to try to stay warm".
"I'll be honest. With 40 years of experience, if you threw me out there with no knife, no tin can, no flint to start a fire, no tarp, no nothing, I'd rather die," Mr Arama said.
"This is no Crocodile Dundee movie. This is real."
On Wednesday, the RCMP pulled its military-scale search operation out of the tiny river community of York Landing and returned to Gillam, where the manhunt will be based until further notice.
The massive operation descended on York Landing after a sighting of Schmegelsky and McLeod rummaging for food at a landfill before fleeing into bushes after realising they'd been seen.
Despite dozens of officers, sniffer dogs and drones combing the remote towns - about 90km apart and 1000km north of the provincial capital of Winnipeg - there was no trace found of the pair and police said they were "unable to substantiate the tip".
"The heavy police presence in York Landing has been withdrawn & policing resources in the community will return to normal. The RCMP thanks the community for their patience & understanding," police said in a statement on Wednesday.
RCMP resources remain in the Gillam area and will continue to conduct searches in high probability areas for any signs of the suspects. The search of remote areas is being conducted both on foot and in the air. #rcmpmb pic.twitter.com/3QCPrQ4Tpw— RCMP Manitoba (@rcmpmb) July 30, 2019
The York Landing tip included information that the two people sighted were wearing the same clothing - Schmegelsky in a camouflage jacket and McLeod in a blue T-shirt - that they were pictured in on CCTV footage from a hardware store in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.
An exhaustive search of the area failed to locate the duo, childhood friends and former Walmart employees from Vancouver Island, who had either managed another miraculous escape or were never there in the first place.
But if it was Schmegelsky and McLeod searching for food, those closest to the hunt say the path they took to get there is littered with obstacles that would make hiding near impossible and very unpleasant. If the teens did make it to York Landing, they are not there now. The emergency response team and other resources that flooded the town have largely been sent back to Gillam.
"We thank the community for their patience & understanding & ask them to continue to be vigilant," police said in a statement.
But soon after again broadening their search in Gillam, the RCMP revealed that it has "now completed their door to door canvasses in Fox Lake Cree Nation & the Town of Gillam".
"To date, over 500 homes have been visited by investigators," a statement read.
Investigators have now received over 260 tips in the past 7 days. None have established that the suspects are outside of the Gillam area. However, #rcmpmb continues to remind the public that it is possible the suspects inadvertently received assistance & are no longer in the area— RCMP Manitoba (@rcmpmb) July 30, 2019