SWAT teams, tactical assault vehicles, drones, helicopters and sniffer dogs have descended on the remote northern Canadian outpost of Gillam, Manitoba, in a frantic search for two teenagers accused of embarking on a murderous highway rampage.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Thursday they have received 80 tips from the public the past two days and believe accused killers Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, remain near Gillam.
After abandoning and torching their Toyota RAV4 getaway vehicle on Monday night in bushland outside of Gillam, the teenagers appear to have fled on foot into the wilderness which features unforgiving swamps, bears, wolves and a summer infestation of bugs.
“There have been two established and corroborated sightings of the suspects in the Gillam area,” RCMP Corporal Julie Courchaine told reporters on Thursday.
Two black backpacks were also dumped in the area.
There have been no reports of vehicles being stolen, leading the RCMP to believe they have not fled by car.
“At this point in the investigation, we believe they are still in the area,” Corporal Courchaine said.
“Manitoba RCMP has deployed a significant amount of resources to the Gillam area, including our emergency response team or crisis negotiation team, police, dog services and air services assets.”
The teenagers are accused of beginning a killing spree more than 3,000km away on July 14 in the western Canadian province of British Columbia when they shot dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, 23, and his US girlfriend Chynna Deese, 23.
The old Chevrolet van Mr Fowler and Ms Deese were driving had broken down on a remote freeway near Liard Hot Springs in northern British Columbia.
Their bodies were found in a ditch.
Five days later and 467km away near Dease Lake, BC, authorities believe McLeod and Schmegelsky encountered and murdered the University of British Columbia botanist Leonard Dyck.
The RCMP have charged the teens with second-degree murder for Mr Dyck’s death.
They allegedly left Mr Dyck’s body on the freeway, set fire to their own Dodge pick-up truck and escaped in the RAV4.
They drove it across northern Canada to Gillam where it is so desolate the road comes to a dead end.
The RCMP have set up roadblocks, while the wilderness is considered so severe and challenging locals doubt the two teenagers would be able to survive.
In winter, temperatures drop to below minus 20 degrees Celcius, but in summer the ground turns into mush and there’s an explosion of insects that make it impossible to tolerate without the correct equipment.
“This is very challenging terrain,” Corporal Courchaine said
“This is a large area.
“There’s lots of dense bush, forests, swampy areas.”
The RCMP refused to comment on reports the teenagers were obsessed by Nazi history.
Photos of Nazi memorabilia, including a swastika and knife, were reportedly posted to online accounts linked to the teenagers.
McLeod and Schmegelsky, from Port Alberni, near Vancouver, are long-time school friends who recently worked at Walmart.
Father says teen seeking ‘blaze of glory’ death
The father of one of the Canadian teenagers suspected of killing Mr Fowler and Ms Deese expects his son’s murderous rampage to end in “a blaze of glory” gun battle with police.
A distraught Alan Schmegelsky said his son was dealing with some “very serious pain”, was on a “suicide mission” and he expects his son to be killed by police.
“He wants his hurt to end,” Mr Schmegelsky told Canadian Press.
“They’re going to go out in a blaze of glory. Trust me on this.”
Mr Schmegelsky said his son had a troubled upbringing since his parents divorced when he was five and believes he’ll go down shooting.
“Basically, he’s going to be dead today or tomorrow. I know that” he said.
“Rest in peace, Bryer. I love you. I’m so sorry all this had to happen. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t rescue you.”
Mr Schmegelsky said his son spent a lot of time playing video games and watching YouTube.
“A normal child doesn’t travel across the country killing people,” he said. “A child in some very serious pain does.”
McLeod’s father, Keith McLeod, released a statement emphasising his son’s compassionate nature despite communities across Canada being terrified of crossing paths with him.
“This is what I do know – Kam is a kind, considerate, caring young man,” Mr McLeod wrote.
The teens are suspected of murdering Mr Fowler, Ms Deese and Vancouver father Leonard Dyck in Canada’s western province of British Columbia and in the past few days driving more than 3000km east to Gillam.
The RCMP announced on Wednesday they have charged McLeod and Schmegelsky with Mr Dyck’s second-degree murder.
Authorities were initially unable to identify Mr Dyck when his body was found last Friday on a BC highway.
The charge allows the RCMP to issue Canada-wide warrants for McLeod and Schmegelsky.
The teenagers’ second car, a Toyota RAV4 SUV, was found abandoned and on fire in bushland outside Gillam on Monday night.
“These suspects should not be approached and if you do see them to call 911 or your local police immediately,” RCMP Corporal Julie Courchaine said on Wednesday.
Gillam, with a population of 1265, is so isolated the mayor describes it as “the end of the road”.
If the teenagers did flee into the wilderness, Gillam’s Deputy Mayor John McDonald said they could not have picked a worse time.
“The sandflies came out three days ago and they’re just voracious,” he said.
“I’m quite sure they’ll be more than happy to have someone find them.”
But Mr Schmegelsky said his son and McLeod, childhood friends from the town of Port Alberni, were experienced in the wilderness and considered themselves “survivalists”.
“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 two-and-a-half years,” he said earlier this week.
McLeod and Schmegelsky first came on the RCMP’s radar on Friday when their Dodge pick-up truck was found burning 2km away from Mr Dyck’s body near Dease Lake, BC, and the duo went missing.
Mr Fowler, 23, from Sydney, and Ms Deese, 24, from North Carolina, were found shot dead and left in a ditch near their broken-down van 20km south of Liard Hot Springs, BC, nine days ago.
The couple was on a Canadian road trip.
For support and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.