Mayor of Port Alberni, home of murder suspects, urges patience and understanding
PORT ALBERNI, B.C. - The mayor of a Vancouver Island town that was home for two deceased murder suspects expressed her sorrow Thursday for the nationwide tragedy that resulted in five deaths.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said the grief is local, national and worldwide.
“We very much just want to express our condolences,” said Minions outside city hall. “There's been so much tragedy that has happened in this situation. Locally, certainly people are feeling it, but across the country and across the world.”
Medical examiners in Manitoba are working to confirm the bodies of Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, were found in the province's northern wilderness, ending a Canada-wide pursuit for the two who were suspected in three killings in British Columbia.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were charged with second-degree murder of Leonard Dyck, 64, of Vancouver, whose body was found on a highway pullout in northern B.C. Police have also linked the pair to the deaths of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, his 24-year-old American girlfriend, Chynna Deese, although charges haven't been laid in that investigation.
“It has been a difficult few weeks for the community,” Minions said. “From the teens being missing to it being released they are suspects, the search, and now this part of the conclusion. This is definitely not what we had hoped for in terms of an outcome. A lot of people in the community have struggled with how to handle the news.”
She said there is concern for the local relatives of McLeod and Schmegelsky, the families of the victims and the impact the ordeal has had on people and communities across Canada.
Sarah Mackie said she felt overwhelming emotion for the families of the two suspects and the town of Port Alberni as it attempts to comprehend what has happened.
“It's a good town,” said Mackie, outside a local McDonald's restaurant. “There's a lot of sadness because we're never going to know why. Who's going to talk?”
Marilyn Hill, who was preparing to teach a Tai Chi class along Port Alberni's harbour waterfront, said she was concerned about the town getting known for violence when “we're really good.”
“Those are two individuals who made a misstep somewhere in their lives,” she said. “The rest of us are trying to do the best we can and be as kind as possible. From my perspective those two boys were lost. They were lost somewhere and the safety net wasn't there.”
Minions downplayed speculation the two men were involved in violent video games and may have been involved with or influenced by ultra-right ideologies.
“It's difficult to speculate at this point because there's so little information with what has happened now and we might not get the answers that we've all been really hoping for,” she said. “We don't know what caused this, what might have led to it. The important thing is how we move forward now.”
Minions said concern that violent video games can influence youth development is widespread and fears about the impact of racism goes beyond Port Alberni.
“At this point, we don't want to speculate on what it is or is not,” she said. “We know as a community we have work to do, like other communities.”
Minions said early childhood education programs and expanded activities for youth are viewed as positive investments.
The McLeod and Schmegelsky families have not been available for comment since the discovery of the two bodies.
Schmegelsky's father, Alan Schmegelsky, said in an interview days after the police search started that his son had struggled because of his parents acrimonious split in 2005 and that his son's main influences had become video games and YouTube.
“He wants his hurt to end. They're going to go out in a blaze of glory. Trust me on this. That's what they're going to do,” he said in a July 24 interview with The Canadian Press.
He said his son asked for an airsoft gun for Christmas two years ago and he bought it so Bryer and his friends could “battle” each other in the woods.
RCMP said last month they were investigating allegations that Bryer Schmegelsky sent photographs of a swastika armband and a Hitler Youth knife to an online friend.
Schmegelsky said his son wasn't a Nazi sympathizer, but thought the memorabilia was “cool.”
The photographs also showed the young man in military fatigues, holding an airsoft rifle and wearing a gas mask.