Police divers are searching the frigid waters of a Canadian river for the bodies of two teenage fugitives suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler and his US girlfriend Chynna Deese.
It is the latest move by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to find Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, after the duo disappeared two weeks ago near Gillam, in northern Manitoba.
RCMP officers searching from a helicopter on Friday located a damaged aluminum rowboat on the shore of the Nelson River.
The boat may have been damaged travelling through rapids on the river, raising the prospect Schmegelsky and McLeod were tossed out attempting a getaway.
The boat was found about 70km north of Gillam and about 13km from where police believe the teens set light to the stolen car.
“It had gone through some rapids and had been significantly damaged,” RCMP Inspector Leon Fiedler told The Globe and Mail.
“We’re going to search in the area around where we found this boat just to make sure that there is nobody attached to it, whether that is our subjects or anyone else for that matter.”
Inspector Fiedler said police had not yet located the rowboat’s owner.
There was no forensic evidence to gather from the boat.
— RCMP Manitoba (@rcmpmb) August 4, 2019
Despite unconfirmed sightings of the duo as far away as the neighbouring province of Ontario, the RCMP continues to search around Gillam.
Survival experts predict the teenagers would struggle to stay alive if they attempted to hide without shelter and equipment in the swampy, bug-infested wilderness around the backwoods town.
“Ultimately, we’re still in a state of unknown. Nobody knows where they are,” said Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman after a community meeting.
“That’s what this meeting was about, to find out to what stage of fear is still within the community.”
The dive team is the latest attempt by the RCMP to bring closure to a manhunt that began more than 3000 kilometres away on July 14 in Canada’s western province of British Columbia.
The bodies of Mr Fowler, 23, from Sydney, and his North Carolina girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, were found in a ditch beside a BC highway. They had been shot.
Four days later on another BC highway the teenagers allegedly murdered botanist Leonard Dyck and then drove east across Canada’s north to Gillam.
Royal Canadian Air Force planes with infrared and other search technology failed to spot the duo.
“To assist in the ongoing search for the 2 BC suspects, Manitoba RCMP’s Underwater Recovery Team (URT) will be arriving in Gillam tonight and divers will begin to search a section of the Nelson River tomorrow, Sunday, August 4,” RCMP wrote in a tweet.
Canada has been gripped by the nationwide manhunt.
The Ontario Provincial Police announced on Friday it had set up an investigative team to follow up on potential sightings of Schmegelsky and McLeod in their province.
Earlier, purported sightings shifted the manhunt’s focus from Manitoba to the eastern Canadian province of Ontario even as authorities implored the public not to spread “rumours” and “misinformation” on social media.
The reported sightings prompted police in Sudbury to warn against half-baked speculation on social media.
We are aware of unconfirmed sightings in our area of two persons wanted for homicide in BC. We currently have no confirmed sightings in our area. We are aware of misinformation related to the murder suspects via social media and ask the public to refrain from spreading rumours.
— Sudbury Police (@SudburyPolice) August 2, 2019
Ontario Provincial Police announced on Friday it has set up an investigative team headed by a senior detective to follow up on all potential sightings.
“The OPP is following up on every tip it receives,” OPP Sergeant Carolle Dionne told AAP. “Yesterday alone we received over 30 tips in less than eight hours.
“We ask anyone who believes they have observed these two suspects to report it to police immediately.”
If the fugitives are in Ontario they have eluded authorities while travelling more than 5000km. That’s 1000km further than the distance between Sydney and Perth.
The crime spree began on July 14 in the western province of British Columbia when the bodies of Mr Fowler, 23, from Sydney, and his North Carolina girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, were found shot dead on the side of a highway.
Four days later on another BC highway the teenagers allegedly murdered botanist Leonard Dyck and then drove 3000km east across Canada’s north to the tiny town of Gillam, Manitoba.
On July 23 their stolen Toyota RAV4 was dumped outside of Gillam and set on fire.
There have been no confirmed sightings of the duo since.
While the dive team has joined the effort, the search around Gillam has been scaled back from the intensive effort to scour the 11,000 square kilometres around Gillam.in the days immediately after the teens vanished.
If the suspects are spotted, authorities urged the public to take note of every detail.
“Sharing as much information as possible on your observation is important such as type of vehicle, vehicle plate, description of clothing, direction of travel,” Sgt Dionne said.
“But most importantly, do not approach them as they are considered to be dangerous.”