July 11, 2020

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Northern town on edge

Gillam residents keep watch for fugitives as latest search comes up empty

Miranda and Joel Atkinson, with their dog Fenris, still keep their kids inside but are opening the windows and are eager to get back to the all-too-short summer in Gillam, Man., two weeks after the last confirmed sighting of two B.C. men wanted for murder.

Miranda and Joel Atkinson, with their dog Fenris, still keep their kids inside but are opening the windows and are eager to get back to the all-too-short summer in Gillam, Man., two weeks after the last confirmed sighting of two B.C. men wanted for murder.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/8/2019 (341 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GILLAM — A bit of cabin fever, a bit of complacency, but still a lot of caution in Gillam as — two weeks after the last reported sighting of two B.C. men suspected of murder — the town waits for closure.

RCMP are still searching near the small northern Manitoba town for Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, who are wanted in the deaths of Leonard Dyck, 64, Lucas Fowler, 23, and Chynna Deese, 24.

The missing fugitives are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Dyck and suspected in the slayings of Fowler and Deese.

An RCMP dive team arrived Sunday to search the Nelson River after finding an aluminum boat in an aerial sweep. But RCMP said there was nothing to report from the search and on Monday, they didn’t dive again.

"It’s been like every day’s been a bad rain day. We just stay inside, watch cartoons, play games," said Gillam resident Miranda Atkinson. "But knowing why we do that, it’s been very on edge. Normally we don’t close and lock our doors and lock our windows every day."

She and her husband Joel are relaxing their policy on windows as nice summer days come and go, but their eight-year-old avid cyclist daughter is no longer allowed to go for bike rides on her own. Another son, 11, had been taking the garbage out on his own — but not these last two weeks. Their one-year-old hasn’t been going out for walks with his mom.

Joel works at Limestone, only a few kilometres from the site near Sundance where RCMP set up a roadblock Monday and where on July 22, firefighters extinguished flames on a Toyota RAV4 the two suspects were believed to have been driving.

Now, drivers are keeping an eye on the ditch as they drive, he said.

A dive boat is removed from the RCMP's staging area at Sundance on the Nelson River Monday. RCMP divers finished up Sunday and did not dive again Monday.

TESSA VANDERHART / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A dive boat is removed from the RCMP's staging area at Sundance on the Nelson River Monday. RCMP divers finished up Sunday and did not dive again Monday.

"It’s slowed own our summer so much," Joel said. "There’s only so much time in Gillam to be outside, where the bugs aren’t ridiculous and storms aren’t coming in every night," Joel said. "It’d be nice to be able to have barbecues and do things outside on the weekend."

Last week, the community did just that: a big barbecue to get people outside, safely, together.

"As you would call us, the true Gillamites, the guys who’ve been here forever, still are going out to their cabin. they just have a gun sitting next to them in the truck," Joel said.

Both grew up in Gillam and returned to raise their three kids in a town where they were free to roam.

Like any small town, the rumour mill is flowing. They live in a neighbourhood of brightly coloured homes nicknamed Crayola, the first homes on the road into town.

Gillam has many contractors coming through who stay for only a short time, whether it’s to work on Hydro projects, road work or local projects. The Atkinsons know many of their neighbours but there are several homes in Crayola used for short-term stays nearby.

So the Atkinsons are still keeping an eye out, even as life gets back to normal.

"Complacent, maybe? Because nothing sensational has happened in the last little while where they’ve found something," Joel said.

A Mountie inspects the RCMP helicopter before leaving the staging area at Sundance on the Nelson River Monday.

TESSA VANDERHART / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A Mountie inspects the RCMP helicopter before leaving the staging area at Sundance on the Nelson River Monday.

"If the military and the (RCMP) and the government aren’t worried, why am I going to be as paranoid as I was?"

"That makes me even more unnerved," Miranda responded.

Both are cautiously optimistic that answers are coming. They said they want closure.

"It’s a lot of maybes," Miranda said. "Maybe they’re bear poop."

RCMP scaled down their search last week after scouring 11,000 square kilometres, canvassing more than 500 homes and empty buildings in the Gillam area.

"It’s still waiting, we don’t have anything substantial yet," said Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman.

"Emotions are anywhere from — people are going back to a life of normalcy or people are scared and locking themselves in the house, protecting their children," he said. "There’s both sides."

Forman said people had a chance during a town hall meeting Friday to express those feelings. He said he’s in touch with RCMP every day for updates.

"It’s a mixed bag of emotions," he said.

tessa.vanderhart@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @tessavanderhart

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History

Updated on Monday, August 5, 2019 at 10:58 PM CDT: Adds related items.

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