Manhunt underway after burnt vehicle found in northern Manitoba used by suspects in B.C. homicides: RCMP

Manhunt underway after burnt vehicle found in northern Manitoba used by suspects in B.C. homicides: RCMP

Police dogs, a drone and heavily armed officers are combing the area around Gillam, Man., as the search for two men wanted on Canada-wide warrants is in full swing.

On Wednesday, police confirmed a burnt-out vehicle found outside the northern town, is the same one driven by two B.C. teens wanted in connection with three homicides in British Columbia, according to the RCMP. 

Police continue to scour northern Manitoba for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18. 

The men, both from Port Alberni, B.C., are suspects in the shooting deaths of a tourist couple in northern B.C. last week and on Wednesday were charged with second-degree murder of a man whose body was found days later near Dease Lake, B.C.

Police have identified that man as Leonard Dyck of Vancouver. He was found dead on July 19 at a highway pullout about two kilometres from a burnt-out camper truck, discovered the same day, south of the Stikine River Bridge on B.C.'s Highway 37.

Submitted by Cassandra Neepin

McLeod and Schmegelsky's Toyota Rav4 was found on fire on Monday near Fox Lake Cree Nation, about 760 kilometres north of Winnipeg, north of the town of Gillam.

RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine said Wednesday police believe the abandoned vehicle was driven by the two men. 

Courchaine told reporters in Winnipeg there will be a "heavier police presence" in the Gillam area while investigators continue search for the men, whom police describe as armed and dangerous.

Gilbert Rowan/CBC

"These suspects should not be approached," she said.

If anyone does see either man, Courchaine said they should immediately call 911 or their local police service.

"We are investigating all tips and continuing to ask for the public's assistance," Courchaine said. 

CBC News has learned of a potential sighting in Split Lake, about 85 kilometres from Gillam, but the RCMP wouldn't say if McLeod and Schmegelsky were actually spotted there.

"The investigation is complex and if we have a confirmed sighting we will let everyone know as soon as possible," Courchaine said.

RCMP

Police dogs have been sent to the area and RCMP say they've set up a road-stop at the intersection of Provincial Roads 280 and 290, leading into Gillam.

"Obviously we are looking at the terrain and you know different routes and what possibly could have happened," Courchaine said.

Officers could be seeing deploying a drone near a wooded area. Vehicles going in and out of the community are being searched.

The manhunt has people across northern Manitoba on alert.

Hardeep Sahota, who works in a restaurant at Kettle River Inn and Suites in Gillam, said she typically keeps the back door open for fresh air. Not on Wednesday, however.

"I was thinking maybe they might come from the back, so I just let close the back door. I have to be very careful, because they might be hungry and they will come and eat," she said.

She also had her son-in-law drive her to work on Wednesday, rather than walk as she normally would.

Tristan Schneider and the man he was travelling with were pulled over in the Leaf Rapids area — 325 kilometres west of Gillam — on Tuesday night by RCMP on the lookout for McLeod and Schmegelsky.

"It progressed all the way to me and my co-driver lying face down on the gravel, getting handcuffed [and police] asking where our IDs were," Schneider said.

Police released both men once they confirmed they were not McLeod and Schmegelsky.

Gilbert Rowan/CBC

Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said it's understandable people are on edge. 

"It's an unknown for anyone, as far as whether they [suspects] are or are not in the community," he said.

His advice for residents in the Gillam area is to "stay safe, stay indoors, and if you're travelling alone, I wouldn't recommend it. Travel in groups and keep your eyes open for any suspicious individuals."

Gillam is 55 kilometres southwest of Fox Lake Cree Nation, where the torched SUV was found in bush off Highway 290 — which links the two communities along the Nelson River.

Forman described the region, about 760 kilometres north of Winnipeg, as "all swamp, heavy trees" and sometimes visited by polar bears which, until now, have been the only strangers that have posed any danger.

CBC News Graphics

Gillam, which has about 1,200 people, is one of the northernmost towns in Manitoba accessible year-round by road. Many communities in that part of the province are isolated and accessible only by air or winter ice roads.

Forman said McLeod and Schmegelsky face limited transportation routes out of the area, which now has a heightened police presence as RCMP search for them.

"There's only one road in and one road out," he said, adding that if they're on foot, it's challenging terrain.

"It's pretty rugged for them if they're trucking through the tree lines."

RCMP continue to use a check stop at the intersection of Highway 280 and Highway 290, the only road into Gillam. 

The Ontario Provincial Police told CBC News they have issued a public safety warning to be on the lookout for Schmegelsky and McLeod but are not actively searching for them.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an organization that represents northern Manitoba First Nations, warned residents of Fox Lake Cree Nation, a community in the Gillam area, to be on alert.

"I encourage residents in the area of Fox Lake to remain vigilant while the RCMP conduct their search for these two suspects," said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a statement.

Ben Nelms/CBC

On Monday, when McLeod and Schmegelsky were still considered missing — one day before the RCMP declared them to be the primary suspects — Schmegelsky's father, Alan, told CHEK News the men considered themselves survivalists.

He said they "liked to go into the woods and play war" and were trained in camouflage. 

"If there's any hope that Bryer and Kam are alive, it's because they … would have gone into the woods and they know how to hide, because they've been doing this for the last 2½ years," he said, adding, "They're non-violent, they're good people. Never got in trouble or anything."

Submitted by Cassandra Neepin

Lucas Fowler, 23, an Australian, and Chynna Deese, 24, an American, were discovered gunned down along the side of the Alaska Highway south of Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.

Four days later, McLeod and Schmegelsky's burnt-out truck was discovered near the community of Dease Lake, more than 470 kilometres away from the first crime scene. The body of an unidentified man in his 50s or 60s was found two kilometres south of that truck.

Police said Schmegelsky and McLeod were later spotted on surveillance video at a grocery store in northern Saskatchewan and believed travelling in the grey 2011 Toyota RAV4.

The RCMP released images from that video Tuesday, showing McLeod wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon image with the caption "a wild Cathulhu appears" and Schmegelsky wearing a camouflage-patterned jacket.

Chris Corday/CBC

Both suspects are described as 6-foot-4 and about 169 pounds.

McLeod is described as having dark brown hair, facial hair and brown eyes. Schmegelsky is described as having sandy brown hair.

McLeod's dad, Keith, released the following statement on Wednesday, noting he's not ready for an interview, because he's "not able to make it through a sentence without breaking down." 

"To all the people who truly care.  "I'm sitting at home worrying about my son. Relentless media hounding us for information that we don't have. This is what I do know — Kam is a kind, considerate, caring young man, always has been concerned about other people's feelings.  "As we are trapped in our homes due to media people, we try to wrap our heads around what is happening and hope that Kam will come home to us safely so we can all get to the bottom of this story."  

WATCH: Mayor of Gillam responds to the increased RCMP presence in and around the community