WINNIPEG (NEWS 1130) – Autopsies are set for Thursday on the two bodies found in northern Manitoba, believed to be those of the Vancouver Island murder suspects who were the focus of an over two-week-long manhunt.
The autopsies should answer some — but not all — questions, including whether the remains found do in fact belong to 18-year-old Bryer Schmegelsky and 19-year-old Kam McLeod — although, Mounties have little doubt.
“At this time, we are confident that these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia,” Manitoba RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy said.
Another question many Canadians are asking is how the pair died, and when.
While the autopsy will provide some answers, it likely won’t reveal “why.”
The two were last seen, alive, in Gillam — about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg — on July 22.
The bodies were found on Wednesday morning in very dense brush, about eight kilometres from where a torched vehicle used by the two was found.
“It’s a very dense place, it’s a difficult place to find anybody,” MacLatchy said of the area near the Nelson River. “Very tough terrain, lots of land as well — it’s a huge area that we’re looking at.”
The same area around Gillam, Fox Lake Cree Nation, and York Landing has been the focus of an intense search that gripped much of Canada, and even other parts of the world, since the manhunt began after Schmegelsky and McLeod were named suspects on July 23 in three northern B.C. deaths.
WATCH: Murder suspects believed dead, Mounties say
“Your lives have been disrupted,” MacLatchy said to those living in the communities impacted by the manhunt. “Many of you lived with uncertainty and fear, but throughout you were resilient — you came together as communities, and you helped our officers get the job done.”
On August 2, Mounties had said a damaged rowboat was found along the Nelson River, and dive teams were sent out to conduct an underwater search in what was described as “significant areas of interest.”
Days later, the RCMP had confirmed several items linked to the two men were found along the shore, but it’s still unclear what those items are.
“We didn’t have any information to pin point us to a specific search area where we could do a much more detailed search,” MacLatchy said of the days before the discovery. “The items we did find on the shoreline gave us that opportunity to pinpoint that search and therefore do a much more detailed search of the area.”
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman says people are relieved to know the search has come to an end.
“Unbelievable sense of relief for communities of Gillam and Fox Lake, it’s a sense of closure,” he said on Wednesday.
While he said he was relieved the manhunt was over, Forman also said his thoughts are now with the families of those impacted, saying they may never get the answers they’re looking for about what happened, and why.
“The closure is here for Gillam and Fox Lake area, but the closure for the victims’ families is far from over,” he said.
The Port Alberni men were charged with the second-degree murder of UBC lecturer Leonard Dyck — whose body was found on July 22 near Dease Lake, B.C. — and suspects in the deaths of of American Chyyna Deese and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, who would shot and killed sometime in mid-July. The couple’s bodies were found along the Alaska Highway, south of Liard Hot Springs, on July 15.
“To the families of everyone affected by the series of events over the last few weeks, I know it has been so very difficult,” MacLatchy said on Wednesday.
Steen Hartsen, a forensic DNA analyst at BCIT, explains examiners will likely want to first and foremost confirm the identities when doing the autopsies.
“Obviously, that’s one of the more pressing concerns,” he said. “I imagine they’ll have a number of characteristics on them that’ll be easy to identify, either personal effect, or clothing, or other things that are associated with them. But, they’ll also look for probably dental records is one of the easier ways to identify human remains.”
What comes next is probably the cause of death, to determine what exactly happened to the two men.
In all, Hartsen says the autopsy should only take a few days time.
How long it will take for the findings to be released to the public, however, may not be as straightforward.
“It really depends on the lead investigators and what they want to do, and whether they want to present all the information once they’ve got possible motive and anything else, or if they just want to present things as they’re discovered,” he explained. “So it’s really impossible for me to say how long it will be until that information is released.”
-With files from The Canadian Press