Canadian police say scaling back search in Manitoba for murder suspects

(Reuters) - Canadian police said on Wednesday they are scaling back an intensive week-long search in the northern Manitoba wilderness for two teenagers charged with killing a university lecturer and suspected in the murders of two tourists.

FILE PHOTO: Kam McLeod, 19 from Port Alberni, named as a suspect along with Bryer Schmegelsky, 18 in the murder of an Australian tourist and his American girlfriend in northern British Columbia, and charged with the second-degree murder of Leonard Dyck, is seen in a still image from undated CCTV taken in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan and released by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) July 26, 2019. Manitoba RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

The intensive search in the area for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, both of Port Alberni, British Columbia, was sparked by two sightings around the tiny Manitoba town of Gillam last week.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are cutting back the number of officers to 40 from a previously undisclosed number, and the Canadian military and air force, which had been supporting the police, are pulling out, the RCMP said.

“I know that today’s news is not what the victims’ families and the people of Manitoba wanted to hear,” assistant commissioner Jane MacClatchy told a news briefing.

“However this is always a possibility when searching in vast rugged areas in terrain that is difficult.”

Police have combed 11,000 sq km (6,835 sq miles) of the area and canvassed 500 homes and empty buildings, employing dogs, drones and “some of the most advanced technologies available,” MacClatchy said.

“While the search in northern Manitoba is being scaled down, it is not over and will not stop until there is a resolution.”

Police charged McLeod and Schmegelsky last week with the second-degree murder of Leonard Dyck, 64, a botany professor whose body was found near the teens’ abandoned flaming car in Dease Lake, British Columbia, on July 19.The pair, who were first reported missing, are also considered suspects in the murders about 500 km (310 miles) away of Chynna Deese, 24, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, 23, from Sydney.

The manhunt has been going on for over a week, crossing 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from the crime scenes in British Columbia to northern Saskatchewan to Manitoba, through geography which has been repeatedly described as a hindrance to the search.

“It’s a tough place to find someone who doesn’t want to be found,” MacClatchy said. “I think we’ve done everything we can. We pulled out all the stops on this thing from the instant we found out about it.”

The RCMP said the suspects may have received assistance in leaving the Gillam area, and implored the public to come forward with any tips, no matter how insignificant they might seem.

Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall