VICTORIA—One question dominated many conversations on Vancouver Island these past three weeks. Why?
Why would two young men from the small city of Port Alberni have committed such senseless crimes? Three innocent lives stolen, ended on the side of remote highways in northern B.C. Why?
As we all watched the hunt for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeodunfold in northern Manitoba, thousands of kilometres away, there were many theories but few clues and no answers.
The pair had been friends since childhood, and they’d recently worked together at Walmart. In early July, they reportedly told family they were heading to the Yukon to find work. Schmegelsky’s father received a text message from his son, the last one he would ever get, saying they were headed to Alberta. Is there a clue in that contradiction? Perhaps.
Maybe the plan all along was to kill. That conjures up images of things such as Columbine High School (before either McLeod or Schmegelsky was even born) and so many other more recent crimes, images of teenage boys with guns in their hands and murder on their minds. If that was the case,could there be other victims?Where would they have got the gun(s)? We still don’t know.
There has been some snippets of information about the two young men, particularly Schmegelsky, showing signs of anti-social behaviour, but nothing obvious to suggest that level of violence. Early on, Kam’s father Keith McLeod called his son “a kind, considerate, caring young man.” Al Schmegelsky, Bryer’s father, called them “good boys.” Soon their faces would be splashed on media around the world and the “good boys” were now suspected murderers on the run.
The last images of them most of us will see were caught on a store surveillance camera on July 21. They show the pair walking through a Co-op in northern Saskatchewan. Charged with second-degree murder in the death of64-year-old Leonard Dyck, whose body was found 48 hours earlier, and suspected of shooting and killingLucas Fowler and Chynna Deeseless than a week before, they appear calm, two average young men in a convenience store offering no hint to the carnage they’d allegedly left in their wake and no clues to the reasons behind their actions.
The next day, the Toyota RAV4 they’d been spotted driving in Alberta and Saskatchewan was found burned-out near Gillam, Man., not far from the edges of Hudson Bay. It was a very long way from the place they called home and, as a massive manhunt got underway, we now know it was also very near to the end of the road for them.
Whatever the plan, if there even was a plan, the bodies of the lifelong friends were found in dense brush less than 10 kilometres from where they’d abandoned the vehicle. It took more than two weeks to track them down, but it looks like they were never far away, just very hard to find. Autopsies will reveal the cause of death.
So the search is over, but a void remains.
The hope that united the families of the victims, the parents of the suspects and many in Port Alberni and across Vancouver Island was that this killing spree would come to an end without any further loss of life, and that the suspects would provide some sort of insight into their alleged crimes.
Chynna Deese’s older brother Stetsontold Star Vancouver this week: “It’s been tough, we won’t really know why they did it.” Two weeks ago, Kam’s father wrote something similar: “We try to wrap our heads around what is happening and hope that Kam will come home to us safely so we can all get to the bottom of this story.”
We don’t know if there was any kind of note left behind, whether there will some sort of posthumous explanation from Schmegelsky and McLeod about what unfolded in the final week of their young lives.
For now, we are left with five deaths, five shattered families — three left to cope with losing loved ones to senseless acts of violence and two to try to come to grips with their sons being forever associated with the homicides.
It is possible there were never any good answers or at least none the teens could provide that would give any kind of comfort. Still, here on Vancouver Island, their home, no one is any closer to understanding their motives, and we are left instead to look at the smiling faces of a young couple gone, a much-loved lecturer at UBC dead and wonder, why them? Why there?
Ben O’Hara-Byrne is a journalist and former foreign correspondent based in Victoria. Twitter:@Ben_oharabyrne
Ben O’Hara-Byrne is a journalist and former foreign correspondent based in Victoria. Twitter: @Ben_oharabyrne