RCMP confirmed Monday the two bodies found in northern Manitoba last week are those of homicide suspects, Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, and said the two died in what appears to be suicides by gunfire.
The bodies were found Wednesday, ending a 15-day cross-country search for the two men from Port Alberni, B.C.
Mounties had expressed confidence that the bodies belong to the men, but officers were not able to confirm the identities until autopsies were completed by the Manitoba medical examiner.
The autopsies suggest both individuals were dead for several days before they were found, but the exact time of their deaths is not known.
B.C. RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts says the duo had been alive for a few days since they were last seen in July, and during the extensive search efforts near Gillam, Man.
Police said two firearms were found near the bodies, and forensic analysis is underway to confirm whether these weapons are connected with the northern B.C. homicide investigations.
The search for McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, who would have turned 19 on Aug. 4, covered 11,000 square kilometres in northern Manitoba alone — an area larger than Jamaica.
The two men are suspects in the deaths of a young couple and a botanist, killed within days of each other in northern B.C. last month. They had all been taking summer road trips.
UBC lecturer Leonard Dyck, 64, was found dead on a highway pullout on July 19. A burned-out camper truck believed to be driven by McLeod and Schmegelsky was found in the vicinity.
Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and American Chynna Deese, 24, had been found dead days earlier next to Fowler’s blue Chevy van at the side of the Alaska Highway — hundreds of kilometres from where Dyck would be found. The couple had been shot.
McLeod and Schmegelsky, who told their families they were going to Whitehorse in search of work, were initially believed to be missing after the camper truck was found. RCMP named them suspects in the three killings on July 23, warning the public they were armed and dangerous.
Gruelling search in northern Manitoba
A nationwide search for the fugitives ramped up after a Toyota RAV4, later confirmed to have belonged to Dyck, was found scorched near Fox Lake Cree Nation on July 22. RCMP believe the suspects had been driving the vehicle.
The gruelling search had Mounties and Canadian military trawling unforgiving Manitoba backcountry riddled with boggy swamps and clouds of insects. The hunt left many locals afraid to leave their homes, threw quiet communities into the international media spotlight and transfixed Canadians across the country.
Investigators received more than 1,000 tips during their search. RCMP announced they were scaling back the operation after nine days of unsuccessful efforts on July 31. But two days later, a damaged boat and several personal items linked to the fugitives were found along Manitoba’s Nelson River, which flows between Gillam and Fox Lake.
That discovery led officers to the bodies. The remains were discovered eight kilometres northeast of where the RAV4 was found and one kilometre from where the personal items were located.
Manitoba RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said the search was punishing.
“We were describing it over the last couple of weeks as being some pretty dense bush and some pretty remarkable terrain — in my opinion that’s almost an understatement,” said Manaigre, who participated in police searches after the bodies were found.
“It was incredible. The steep hills, you’ve got a fast moving river with very little riverbank.… It’s unimaginable how … you could traverse that type of area.”
Manaigre said a motive for the B.C. killings is still unknown.
“That’s going to be the biggest puzzle to solve in this investigation,” he said. “And we hope we can get some answers on that question.”
Dawn Roberts of the RCMP said investigators are working tirelessly on these unanswered questions.
“Our investigators are committed to determining as much of that as possible, and we’re hopeful that looking at everything now … respecting we may never have a full understanding with regards to motive.”