WINNIPEG - A massive manhunt is over after two bodies believed to be British Columbia murder suspects were found in dense brush in northern Manitoba.
RCMP assistant commissioner Jane MacLatchy said the bodies were discovered Wednesday morning near the shoreline of the Nelson River, within a kilometre from where several items linked to the two young men were found last week.
Autopsies will be done in Winnipeg on Thursday to confirm the identities, but MacLatchy said that the discovery should bring relief to families of three people slain in northern B.C. and people in Manitoba communities where officers have been searching for nearly two weeks.
"It's huge to be able to hopefully give some people an opportunity to exhale and to hopefully, eventually go back to normal and not being afraid of who's out in the woods anymore," MacLatchy told reporters in Winnipeg.
Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, from Port Alberni, B.C., were facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of Leonard Dyck, a university lecturer from Vancouver.
Dyck's body was discovered along a highway pullout two kilometres south of Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19. Police said they will not release his cause of death out of respect for his family.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were also named as suspects in the shooting deaths of American tourist Chynna Deese and her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler. Their bodies were found along a highway near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15.
B.C. RCMP assistant commissioner Kevin Hackett said Thursday an investigation into the three killings is ongoing.
"It's going to be extremely difficult for us to ascertain definitely what the motive was," he said. "Obviously we will not have the opportunity to speak to these (suspects)."
Hackett said officers have spoken with the families of Dyck, Deese and Fowler about the discovery in Manitoba.
"We'll also continue to offer support to the Port Alberni families of the two men as they deal with these difficult developments."
Police initially treated McLeod and Schmegelsky as missing persons when their charred vehicle was found not far from Dyck's body. The pair had told family and friends they were leaving home to find work.
But investigators later deemed them to be suspects and details surfaced about their use of video games. One account showed Schmegelsky was a frequent player of a shooting game called "Russia Battlegrounds," and both young men's Facebook pages were connected to an account with a modified Soviet flag as its icon.
RCMP also said they were investigating a photograph of Nazi paraphernalia sent to another user by Schmegelsky, who was also pictured in military fatigues brandishing an airsoft rifle and wearing a gas mask.
The manhunt for the pair stretched across the Prairies into northern Manitoba, a distance police said would stretch from London to Moscow, when a second burned-out vehicle they were travelling in was found July 23 near the town of Gillam.
Helicopters and military aircraft aided in searching the surrounding wilderness. MacLatchy said the discovery of the items helped direct the search to a specific area, and the bodies were found nearby — about eight kilometres from where a Toyota RAV4, which belonged to Dyck, was located.
"Our officers knew that we just needed to find that one piece of evidence that could move this search forward," she said.
Hackett called the B.C. homicide investigation, which generated more than 1,000 tips, unpredictable and dynamic, as it involved various provinces, remote areas and international victims.
Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman said it's not a surprise the men were found dead in the area.
"This is non-forgiving terrain … there was a lot of speculation this was likely to be the outcome."
People in the community have been on an emotional roller-coaster, he added, and are relieved the manhunt is over.
"The closure is here for Gillam and the Fox Lake area," he said. "But the closure for the victims' families is far from over."
Deese's brother, British Deese, told The Associated Press that the family needed time to process the news that the suspects' bodies had been found.
"We are speechless," he said in a text message, declining further comment.