TORONTO (Reuters) - A national manhunt for two teens suspected of murdering three people including an Australian and an American in Northern Canada has the country on edge, with police from coast to coast issuing warnings and urging people to stay vigilant.
The suspects, Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, both from Port Alberni, British Columbia, were last confirmed to have been seen driving a grey 2011 Toyota RAV4 in northern Saskatchewan, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said.
On Wednesday, the RCMP said a car matching that description was found on fire on Monday outside Fox Lake Cree Nation, an Indigenous reserve located just over 1,000 km (621 miles) north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were originally reported as missing on July 19 when their red and grey Dodge pickup was found in flames near Dease Lake, British Columbia, just 2 kilometres from an as-yet unidentified body.
Police announced on Tuesday that the pair were now considered suspects in the murders of an American tourist, Chynna Deese, 24, from Charlotte, North Carolina, and her boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, 23, from Sydney, Australia.
The couple were found shot dead on July 15 on a highway in northern British Columbia, 20 km from Liard Hot Springs and 500 km from where McLeod and Schmegelsky’s Dodge was found.
Police also believe Schmegelsky and McLeod may be responsible for the death of the man found near their burning Dodge pickup.
Keith McLeod, father of Kam McLeod, defended his son in a statement to press on Wednesday, describing him as “a kind, considerate, caring young man” who “always has been concerned about other people’s feelings.”
Keith McLeod said the family was still coming to terms with recent events, and said they “hope that Kam will come home to us safely so we can all get to the bottom of this story.”
McLeod and Schmegelsky’s unknown whereabouts has remote communities in Northern Canada on edge.
“Things are very quiet,” Dwayne Forman, mayor of Gillam, Manitoba, 55 km from where McLeod and Schmegelsky’s grey Toyota was found, told Reuters. “There’s not as many kids out playing as normal. But it’s understandable.”
A resident of Gillam, who declined to be identified, told Reuters she had not left her house all day, instead keeping her children inside as she watched police vehicles go by and exchanged information with friends via social media and text messages.
RCMP implored people not to approach McLeod and Schmegelsky if sighted but to call 911, reminding the public that the suspects are considered “dangerous.”
Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis