MONTREAL, QUEBEC – Hunted by police, low on supplies and running the gauntlet of bear and wolf attacks in the mosquito-infested forests of central Canada, two teen triple-murder suspects are unlikely to survive much longer, say experts.
Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky have been on the run since 23-year-old Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend, Chynna Deese, 24, were found shot dead alongside the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia two weeks ago.
“I don’t think they have much chance of survival. … Two young men alone in the woods, hunted by everyone, that won’t last long,” said Mathieu Hebert, cofounder of the Quebec-based survivalist school Les Primitifs.
They have also been charged in a third murder, of 64-year-old Canadian biology professor Leonard Dyck, whose body police found later in the same region.
McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, 18, were last spotted on July 22 in the Gillam region, more than 620 miles (1,000 km) north of the Manitoba capital Winnipeg.
Since then, they have been the target of an intense manhunt involving tracker dogs, a drone and armored vehicles, as well as Air Force planes equipped with infrared cameras.
Law enforcement combed a remote 4,250-sq.-mile part of the province where the two suspects took refuge after traveling more than 1,800 miles west from British Columbia.
“The terrain is hard, rugged, buggy, swampy, dense — it makes navigating from A to B very difficult, even if you have a map and compass,” said Sherman Kong, cofounder of the Maple Leaf Survival school in Manitoba.
He described the area as “very treacherous,” which would the risk of injury and cause the teen fugitives to expend more energy keeping ahead of the police.
Bears, wolves, mosquitoes and even the occasional polar bear can be found in the area, located near Hudson Bay, the start of Canada’s Arctic region.
“Someone who is lost in the forest has to stop moving, find shelter, get warm, purify water to drink and find food,” said Hebert.
“These two have to do it while staying hidden. … That’s very difficult.”
In order to stay hidden, McLeod and Schmegelsky can’t stay in one place for too long, nor can they use a cellphone, or a firearm to hunt or fend off wild animals.
They also can’t light a fire to warm themselves, cook or boil water.
They are constantly at risk of hypothermia, sickness, injury, infection and, longer term, dehydration and starvation.
The unforgiving nature of the region makes progress slow and taxing, and food that is actually nourishing is rare.
“The amount of berries and wild edibles that you would need to eat in order to meet your caloric intake to move through that kind of terrain constantly is disproportional,” said Kong.
“In that kind of environment, people who are weaker and don’t have a lot of energy reserves will collapse relatively quickly,” added Hebert, who recalls losing 20 pounds over six days on survivalist training.
“These kids can’t lose 20 pounds, they won’t be able to function,” he said.
The pair have been described by family as “skilled survivalists” but Manu Tranquard, a professor at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, said calling them experts would be “a stretch.”
“Most people who say they’re part of the ‘survivalist’ movement are people who spend time on YouTube watching video demonstrations of different techniques, but they don’t actually practice the techniques themselves,” he told AFP.
On Wednesday, Canadian police said they were scaling back the hunt. Investigators are not ruling out that the teenagers might already be dead, or that they found a way out of Manitoba.
“If they’re still alive, that’s another story, since then the police have time on their side,” said Hebert.