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This article was published 30/7/2019 (374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When two band constables made a routine stop last week at a checkpoint outside Tataskweyak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, they had no idea the two men in the grey Toyota Rav4 would soon be the targets of a massive police manhunt that has drawn international attention.
Albert Saunders and Morgan Spence were manning the stop off Provincial Road 280 in Split Lake on July 22, when they flagged down a vehicle to initiate a search for drugs and alcohol. (Tataskweyak, located 725 kilometres north of Winnipeg by road, is a so-called dry community where such items are forbidden.)
Band councillor Robert Spence said the Toyota initially rolled through the checkpoint, so the constables got in their vehicle and followed until it pulled over to the side of the road. They approached the two men inside, telling them they should have stopped at the checkpoint to have their vehicle inspected.
"The guy apologized," Spence recounted Tuesday, from what the constables told him about their interaction with a man they now know to be triple homicide suspect Kam McLeod. "They just said that they were just coming into the community to fuel up and leave right away.
"They kept looking at each other. They were acting kind of funny, like paranoid," said Spence. "We didn't see the wanted poster until the next day."
Spence said the constables did a quick search of the vehicle. They didn’t see any drugs, alcohol or weapons, so they let the men go.
Later that day, the Toyota was found on fire in a ditch near Fox Lake Cree Nation, about 160 km to the east.
On July 23, two Port Alberni, B.C., teens, at first thought to be missing, were named suspects in three northern B.C. homicides.
Police are still scouring northern Manitoba for any sign of Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and McLeod, 19, who are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia. Dyck's body was found July 19.
The teens are also suspects in the shooting deaths of young tourist couple Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese, who were found dead July 15.
Once photos of the suspects’ faces began to circulate, Spence said shockwaves rippled through the community.
RCMP labelled the two fugitives as "considered armed and extremely dangerous."
"Holy f---, that’s how I... felt," Spence said. "They’re f------- lucky to be alive today, because these are just regular band constables."
Despite their titles, Spence said band constables are just community members; they have no special training, no uniforms or safety gear and no policing equipment.
Knowing how the situation could have gone differently, Spence said he’s relieved the two constables didn’t know who the teens were when they drove through Tataskweyak. The nearest RCMP detachment is more than 140 km west, in Thompson, he said.
"I’m glad they did just come and go, because I don't know what our constables could have done," he said. "There's no telling how long the RCMP would take, even if they did call 911."
On Tuesday, following an unsuccessful search of the area, the Mounties pulled their heavy police presence out of the small community of York Landing.
"RCMP is unable to substantiate the tip that the suspects had been in the area," the national force said in a news release. "The RCMP thanks the community for their patience and understanding, and continues to remind residents to remain vigilant."
The York Landing search was triggered by a tip from the Bear Clan Patrol, an Indigenous-led neighbourhood watch group, that two men matching the descriptions of Schmegelsky and McLeod were seen rummaging through the local garbage dump.
RCMP said resources will remain in Gillam, 90 km northeast of York Landing, where the last confirmed sighting of the suspects occurred a week ago. The search will continue in high-probability areas on the ground and in the air.
A checkstop on the only road leading into Gillam has been removed, RCMP added.
— with files from The Canadian Press
Updated on Tuesday, July 30, 2019 at 7:30 PM CDT: Updates headline
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