TORONTO — The two men suspected of killing three people in remote areas of British Columbia committed suicide by gunfire, police say. They were found dead next to a river in Manitoba last week.
Officials announced the cause of death after an autopsy, the CBC reported, the results of which also indicated the teens had been deceased for multiple days before authorities found the bodies.
The discovery of the bodies last week marked the conclusion widespread manhunt after the tragic slaying of three people who crossed the teens’ path in mid-July: an American woman, her Australian boyfriend and an unrelated man from Vancouver.
The teenagers, Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, were on the run amid an enormous search by Canadian authorities. The manhunt left the town of Gillam, which is so remote that it has only one road in and out of it, on edge.
At the local Co-op convenience store, gas station and souvenir shop, employees were not permitted to work alone, said general manager Karen Donnellan-Fisher, who had to reduce working hours because there were not enough employees to cope with the change.
She said that she feels “an overwhelming sense of relief” and hopes it won’t be long before a sense of normalcy returns.
“Are people going to be apprehensive and nervous, more cautious around strangers? I think so and that’s normal,” she said. “But having an actual outcome and not being left hanging is the best possible outcome.”
In July, a young couple was traveling south of Liard Hot Springs along the Alaska Highway. It’s a remote area of northern British Columbia wilderness popular for its scenic mountains and prairies. Their journey, however, was cut short. On July 15, Chynna Deese, 24, from Charlotte and her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, 23, were found dead next to their blue 1986 Chevrolet van.
At first, information was sparse. Days later, a bizarre twist led authorities to confirm the teens as suspects in the deaths. They found a body, Leonard Dyck of Vancouver, near a burned-out truck that the teens were driving.
After that, authorities in the town of Gillam, Manitoba, found a second vehicle, originally driven by Dyck, engulfed in flames. The teens had been using it.
In late July, Canadian police charged the two teens with second-degree murder for the death of Dyck. They were also named as suspects in the deaths of Deese and Fowler. Canadian authorities then launched an intensive search in the rugged and unforgiving wilderness of eastern Manitoba.
On Wednesday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that items linked to the teens were discovered Friday near the Nelson River in Manitoba, allowing authorities to narrow their search for the two fugitives. On Wednesday morning, two bodies were found in dense brush, about half a mile from where the items were found and five miles from Dyck’s burned-out vehicle near Gillam.
“At this time, we are confident that these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia,” RCMP Manitoba Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy wrote in the announcement. “An autopsy is being scheduled in Winnipeg to confirm their identities and to determine their cause of death.”
Finally, the weeks-long search was over.
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said residents have experienced a “roller coaster of emotions” as law enforcement officials zeroed in on the blue-collar town, canvassing homes and searching abandoned buildings and rail lines.
When the RCMP announced last week that it would be scaling down the search for the fugitives there, residents said at a community meeting on Saturday that they felt unable to let their guards down and that the uncertainty was still weighing on them, said Forman, 44, who has been mayor for two years.
“I’m hoping today’s announcement goes a long way in helping everyone cope, to ease their anxieties and to alleviate some of the stresses that have been created,” he said. “It almost feels like closure for us, but I don’t know how those families find closure. I hope they do.”
British Columbia RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett said the investigation was far from over and British Columbia RCMP would continue working on the case. Authorities could not confirm a motive for the killings, and said it would probably be hard to determine, but noted they were still searching the area near where Schmegelsky and McLeod were found.
Hackett also said police had updated the families of Deese, Fowler and Dyck on the latest developments.
“The RCMP will continue to offer support to them understanding that the traumatic losses that they have gone through do not end with the deaths of these men whom we believe to be our suspects,” Hackett said.
Though they were used to talking daily, Deese had told her brother British that there might be days when she and her boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, didn’t have phone service and wouldn’t be able to communicate as often during their road trip through Canada.
The couple had seemingly been everywhere — North and South America, Europe. This trip was one of many they had taken together.
British Deese was at his girlfriend’s house when he received the news. His mom called.
“We’re not ever going to see her again,” British Deese previously told The Washington Post. “This is a brutal murder."
Upon hearing the news Wednesday, British told a Post reporter the Deese family was speechless and was taking time to process everything that happened in the past several weeks.
Fowler had been working on a ranch in Canada, and the pair had planned on traveling the region.
“We are just distraught,” Stephen Fowler, Lucas Fowler’s father, said after a police news conference in July. “This has really torn two families apart. Our son Lucas was having the time of his life traveling the world. He met a beautiful young lady. And they teamed up, they were a great pair, and they fell in love.”
Deese and Fowler met in 2017, at a hostel in Croatia. Deese had asked Fowler if she could color with him. She later said she knew he was special by the way he shaded in the lines, British said. After that, they began traveling around the world together. This trip through northern British Columbia was one of many adventures the couple had embarked upon.
British said he thinks about his sister’s “infectious personality.”
“She just brought new things, new experiences, new people, new friends, and everything to everyone she met,” he said.