BREAKING UPDATE: The two Vancouver Island men, formerly reported missing, are now suspects the three homicides being investigated in northern B.C. Read more here.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of three people in northern B.C. continue to attract international media attention, but for some of the people who live in the region, the investigations have them on edge.
Mounties have shared few details about the homicides of American Chynna Deese and Australian Lucas Fowler, whose bodies were found along the Alaska Highway on Monday, July 15. They’re trying to figure out if their deaths are in some way connected to a third body found by a burned-out trailer belonging to two missing men from Port Alberni, 500 kilometres away.
For the many people following these cases, it appears to be a mystery, but some people say it’s now changing their way of life.
“It’s changed the way we engage with the Alaska Highway,” Cory Howden, who lives in Fort Nelson, told NEWS 1130 on Tuesday, a day after Mounties held a news conference. “I can speak specifically for me and my family. We travel, maybe eight to 10 times a year up that road in the summer time.”
Howden has tried to talk to his older son about what’s happened, but said he’ll forever be changed after having stumbled upon the crime scene the morning Deese and Fowler’s bodies were found.
“The morning it happened, I was traveling up the highway and I drove onto the scene, I don’t know how long after the RCMP arrived, but very, very close to the time,” he explained. “That’s going to stay with me for a long time. The bodies were lying in the ditch and the van was parked there.”
Related video: RCMP provide update on couple shot to death in northern B.C.
He said there used to be “beautiful, safe” spots along the route before Dawson City where you could pull over, camp, and hike.
“Now, when we go, my wife is very nervous. She doesn’t want to stop or camp anywhere in sort of the remote sections of the highway — she wants to make sure that’s in campground or with other campers,” he explained.
Deese and Fowler’s bodies were found just south of Liard Hot Springs. With so few answers and with no killers identified, Howden said he’s taking extra precautions to keep himself and his family safe while travelling.
“I have a gun license and I’ll definitely have a gun with me when I travel up the road,” he said.
Related article: Two men go missing in northeastern B.C. near where body is found
Besides his gun, Howden said he will also be carrying a satellite phone whenever he travels, as cell service is unheard of along the highway.
“I’ve never locked my doors in my house since we’ve moved here, and now we’re locking our doors at night,” he added. “I think I just want that to end.”
Meantime, two teens from Vancouver Island are still missing after their vehicle and a third body were found burned out nearly 500 kilometres from the first crime scene.
Investigators said Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod were travelling through B.C. to Whitehorse to look for work and hadn’t been in contact with their families for days. The teens — aged 18 and 19 — were last seen in Dease Lake on Thursday travelling in the red and grey Dodge pickup truck with a sleeping camper that was later found burned, along with an unidentified body. It’s unclear what the link is between the two teens and the body.
Dease Lake is about 470 km away from where 23-year-old Fowler and 24-year-old girlfriend Deese were found murdered.
Mounties have said it’s highly unlikely the two missing men from Vancouver Island killed Fowler and Deese.
The B.C. RCMP has also shot down reports about a possible link between these two cases to numerous disappearances or murders along B.C.’s so-called Highway of Tears, calling them pure speculation at this point.
“There’s no indications that any previous or ongoing investigations relating to Highway 16 are related to these investigations in northern British Columbia at this point,” Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said.
RCMP warn against jumping to conclusions
Meantime, the RCMP is asking people not to make a connection between the deaths up north and a suspected American fugitive believed to be in Canada.
“Lot of people on social media are reporting that we are confirming a link on them, but we’re not confirming anything,” Cpl. Chris Manseau said, adding the man, Derek Whisenand, would at the very most be a person of interest at this point.
Manseau admitted Whisenand — who is wanted in the US in the killing of a senior in Texas — resembles the person of interest in a police sketch released on Monday.
.@BCRCMPMedia tell me the connection btw a Texas murder suspect who crossed into Canada and the northern B.C. homicides are coming from people on social media – not from police. They say keep the tips coming but at best they're looking at Derek Whisenand as a "person of interest"
— Ash Kelly (@AshDKelly) July 23, 2019