Two young men who have spurred a nationwide manhunt in Canada after the killings of an American woman, her Australian boyfriend, and a third unidentified man are known as lifelong friends, according to the father of one of the now-suspects.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police made the shocking announcement during a news conference Tuesday that Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, from Port Alberni, British Columbia, are the main suspects in the slayings of 23-year-old Australian Lucas Fowler, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, who were discovered shot to death on July 15 along the side of the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs, British Columbia.
“We’re asking the public, if you spot Bryer or Kam, consider them dangerous,” RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet told reporters.
Shoihet said Tuesday that McLeod and Schmegelsky left British Columbia and have been traveling in northern Saskatchewan in a grey 2011 Toyota Rav 4. Authorities released surveillance photos of the two in Saskatchewan.
But later in the day, police said the duo may be further east in Manitoba after a reported sighting in near remote northern town of Gillam.
A woman who works at a gas station in Split Lake, located just outside Gillam, told Vancouver's City News News Radio 1130 on Wednesday the pair stopped by on Monday.
“They both stopped in, and they came to my till and he just asked to gas up $20,” Mychelle Keeper told the News 1130. “And that Bryer guy, he asked me ‘Is alcohol allowed here in the community?’ because there’s a big sign at the truck stop there, no bootleggers or drug dealers, he was asking about that. I said ‘no, it’s not allowed here because it’s a dry community.’ That’s it. They paid for their gas and they left.”
Keeper said the interaction didn't register as odd until authorities revealed the following day the two were suspects in the killings, which left her "really scared."
The possible spotting in the Gillam area is roughly 1,800 miles from the region where the killings took place in British Columbia. Officials have said the two young men may also have also changed their appearances and be driving another vehicle.
RCMP Manitoba said Wednesday afternoon on Twitter "a number of resources" have been to the Gillam area, and an informational checkstop is in now in place along an area roadway.
Gilliam Mayor Dwayne Forman told CTV News the alert prompted many of the town's residents to stay indoors.
"The streets are very quiet right now," he said Tuesday night.
The notice came as a burnt-out car was discovered near the reserve of Bird, located about 34 miles from Gilliam, CTV News reported. Fox Lake Cree Nation Walter Spence said in a statement that RCMP would patrol the area after the discovery, but that officials could not confirm if the vehicle was related to the wanted men.
"The RCMP are carefully conducting their work with a large presence and I would like to ask all community members to report anything of concern directly to RCMP," he said in a statement to CTV News.
McLeod and Schmegelsky, who are both from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, were initially listed as missing persons after their burning truck was discovered July 19. While authorities were investigating the burning truck Friday, they discovered a body at a nearby highway pullout. RCMP said that officials were still working to identify the male remains.
Authorities had originally said the pair were traveling to Whitehorse in the Yukon to look for work and had not been in contact with their families for the past few days, police said.
Bryer Schmegelsky’s father, Alan, told the Victoria Times Colonist on Tuesday he discovered his son was a suspect in the killings after a reporter texted him.
“I’m worried to death about my kid. He’s not even a man,” he told the paper. “This is not the kid I know.”
Schmegelsky said he's been trying to contact his son since he was reported missing, but not heard anything. The 18-year-old doesn't have a driver's license and while he was interested in airsoft guns, Alan Schmegelsky told the Colonist he didn't think his son ever fired a real gun.
“I’m in disbelief," he told the paper. "I didn’t see any signs of violence.”
At a news conference on Monday before his son was named a suspect, Alan Schmegelsky said his son and McLeod were disappointed with the Walmart gig, their first jobs, and they decided to head off in search of something better up north, CBC News reported.
"They're just kids on an adventure. They're good boys," he said at the time.
He told the Colonist in an earlier interview the friends would frequently go into the woods to play strategy games, and he had even purchased his son a camouflage outfit for the game.
“His buddies all had them and that was their outdoor video game. You know, a real-life video game,” he told the newspaper.
McLeod's has family declined to comment after the disclosure by police, according to CTV News. Residents of Port Alberni were also shocked by the news.
“It’s a very worrying story, no matter how you look at it,” Mayor Sharie Minions told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s a sad time for the community. Our thoughts are with the families of the boys and of the victims."
A friend of the young men told CTV News they were "average kids" who liked sports and partied, but never were cause for concern.
"I never heard from anyone, co-workers, friends in town, that they were bad kids," a person who asked to not be identified told CTV News. "I just met them a couple times, seen (them) at hockey and around town. They seemed nice."
The RCMP has said that 23-year-old Australian Lucas Fowler, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, were shot to death before their bodies were discovered on the side of the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs on July 15. The couple is believed to have been killed that day or the day prior.
On Monday, authorities released surveillance video of the couple at a gas station in Fort Nelson on July 13, which shows the pair arriving in the van and staying at the facility for about 17 minutes before leaving.
Just a few days after the bodies of a young couple were discovered on the side of a highway in northern British Columbia, young men's burning truck and a body were discovered roughly 292 miles away.
Authorities released a sketch of the deceased man and asked for the public's help in identifying him. He is described as in his 50s and 60s with a heavy build with a grey beard and grey hair.
The separate discoveries of three bodies and a burning car with missing occupants shook rural northern British Columbia.
Shoihet has previously acknowledged it was "unusual" to have two major investigations at the same time in the remote region that sees travelers from abroad in addition to motorists and businesses moving between B.C., Alberta, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon Territory, and Alaska.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.