TORONTO (AP) — Canadian police said Wednesday they believe two fugitives suspected of killing a North Carolina woman and her Australian boyfriend as well as another man have been found dead in dense brush in northern Manitoba.
Authorities located two male bodies and are confident they are 19-year-old Kam McLeod and 18-year-old Bryer Schmegelsky, said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy. She said an autopsy will confirm their identities and causes of death.
Critical evidence found last week when police discovered items directly linked to the suspects on the shoreline of the Nelson River helped locate the bodies, MacLatchy said. Following that discovery, authorities were able to narrow down the search.
Police sent in specialized teams and began searching high-probability areas. On Wednesday morning, police located the two bodies within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from where the items were found and approximately 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from where they left a burnt-out vehicle on July 22.
"We are confident that these are the bodies of the two suspects wanted in connection with the homicides in British Columbia," MacLatchy said.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck, a University of British Columbia lecturer whose body was found July 19 along a highway in British Columbia.
They were also suspects in the fatal shootings of Australian Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese of Charlotte, North Carolina, whose bodies were found July 15 along the Alaska Highway about 300 miles (500 kilometers) from where Dyck was killed.
A manhunt for the pair had spread across three provinces. The suspects had not been seen since the burnt-out car was found on July 22.
The bodies were found near Gillam, Manitoba — more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from northern British Columbia.
Police had said Tuesday they were investigating all possibilities including the possibility that the suspects might have drowned.
A police helicopter initially spotted a damaged boat along the Nelson River last week and a follow-up search in the area uncovered the items directly linked to the two in what MacLatchy described as "very tough terrain."
MacLatchy said there is a sense of relief for families of the victims involved and the communities in the area.
"It's huge to be able to hopefully give some people the opportunity to exhale and to hopefully go back to being normal and not be afraid of who is out in the woods," she said.
Deese's brother, British Deese, said the family needed time to process the news that the suspects' bodies were apparently found.
"We are speechless," he said in a text message, declining further comment.
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said people in the community have been on an emotional roller-coaster and are relieved the manhunt is over.
"The closure is here for Gillam and the Fox Lake area. But the closure for the victims' families is far from over," he said.
The separate discoveries of three bodies and burning cars shook rural northern British Columbia and Manitoba.
Schmegelsky's father, Alan Schmegelsky, said last month that he expected the nationwide manhunt to end in the death of his son, who he said was on "a suicide mission."
McLeod and Schmegelsky grew up together on Vancouver Island and worked together at a local Walmart before they set off together on what their parents thought was a trip to Yukon for work.
McLeod and Schmegelsky themselves were originally considered missing persons and only became suspects later.
Police were investigating a photograph of Nazi paraphernalia allegedly sent online by one of the suspects. Schmegelsky allegedly sent photographs of a swastika armband and a Hitler Youth knife to an online friend on the video-game network Steam.
Alan Schmegelsky had said his son took him to an army surplus store about eight months ago in his small Vancouver Island hometown of Port Alberni, where his son was excited about the Nazi artifacts.
Alan Schmegelsky said he didn't believe that his son identified as a neo-Nazi, but that he did think the memorabilia was "cool."
Fowler and Deese were found shot dead along the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs, British Columbia.
Fowler, the son of a chief inspector with the New South Wales Police Department, was living in British Columbia and Deese was visiting him.
The couple had met at a hostel in Croatia and their romance blossomed as they adventured across the U.S., Mexico, Peru and elsewhere, the woman's older brother said.
British Deese said the couple was on a trip to visit Canadian national parks when they were killed. He said the family believes they must have had engine trouble in their van.