CALGARY—Police have confirmed a damaged aluminum boat found Friday afternoon along the shores of the Nelson River northeast of Gillam, Man., prompted an underwater search for two B.C. fugitives wanted in connection with three homicides.
The boat, a small craft, was badly dented and mangled in the middle, as if it had been plummeted against sharp rocks.
Five members of the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team (URT) were immediately deployed to begin searching the area, according to a Manitoba RCMP media release, and arrived in Gillam Saturday. Manitoba RCMP said the team will begin “a thorough underwater search of significant areas of interest” Sunday.
The Nelson River flows into the Hudson Bay southwest through Manitoba from Lake Winnipeg. It’s nearly 650 kilometres long, dotted with small towns and hydro-electric dams.
Gillam is the last inhabited municipality along the Nelson River before it flows into the Hudson Bay. It sits on the southeast shore of Stephens Lake, a reservoir created by the Kettle Dam where the Nelson River continues its journey north.
Less than 20 km up the river from the Kettle Dam is the Long Spruce Dam, the next of several dams that break up the river as it makes its way to the bay.
But other than the dams, beyond Gillam, there are only ghost towns along the Nelson River.
It’s in Gillam where RCMP, local police and the Royal Canadian Air Force have centred their search for Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19. The teens are charged with second-degree murder in the death of UBC lecturer Leonard Dyck and suspected in the deaths of tourists Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese last month in B.C.
Gillam is where a burned-out Toyota Rav4 the teens were last spotted driving was found.
The boggy, forested wilderness around Gillam, 11,000 square kilometres in total, was combed by officers on foot and in the air, looking for any sign of the two young men. Experts speculated as to whether they could have even survived the harsh terrain, while rumours floated that the pair had made their way to Ontario.
But as the search enters its 13th day, the RCMP have shifted their efforts to the Nelson River, specifically a stretch northeast of Gillam, after the boat was found by officers searching by helicopter.
The two young men are from Port Alberni, a small town on Vancouver Island. They left together on July 12 and told their family they were looking for work.
They were spotted in a Co-op store in Meadow Lake, Sask., on July 21, and some reports placed them in Ontario, but those tips were deemed unreliable by police.
With assistance from the Royal Canadian Air Force, the hunt covered 11,000 square kilometres of dense, boggy forested northern Manitoba land. But on July 31 RCMP announced the RCAF would be pulling out of the search.
With files from Canadian Press and Tessa Vikander
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Rosa Saba is a reporter/photographer with Star Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @rosajsaba