A sense of relief and mystery has replaced weeks of fear in a remote northern Manitoba community where a lengthy cross-Canada hunt for homicide suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky ended Wednesday with the discovery of two bodies, says Tessa Vanderhart.
Yet a central question remains despite the apparent outcome for the men suspected in the grisly northern B.C. killings of three strangers: What motivated these tragedies?
It's unclear if this answer will ever come.
Vanderhart, a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, believes the fugitives may have taken their secrets to the grave.
"Unfortunately because of the way that this ended, I don't know if people will get that closure," she told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.
Autopsies are slated Thursday in Winnipeg to confirm the identities and causes of death of the bodies found a day earlier in a densely forested area near Gillam, Man.
With the saga over, Vanderhart says "there's still a lot of speculation" circulating in her hometown.
"So many people I've spoke to, their first reaction was just this huge amount of relief," she said. "But as a little bit of time passed, it kind of sunk in that we're never going to be able to ask them why they came here, what their role in the alleged crimes was and what a possible motive for that was."
The remote community had been the focus of an exhaustive investigative effort to locate McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, whose 19th birthday was Aug. 4, after key evidence and a confirmed sighting traced them to the unbridled wilderness of northern Manitoba. The RCMP believe they chose Gillam's isolated landscape to avoid detection while they were on the run.
The lifelong friends were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Vancouver botanist Leonard Dyck. They were also suspected of gunning down a young tourist couple: Lucas Fowler, 23, an Australian, and Chynna Deese, 24, an American.
These three deaths spurred a 16-day hunt for the Port Alberni, B.C., men. The marathon search spanned five provinces, more than 2,000 kilometres, and logged more than 4,500 hours.
After weeks spent on edge, terrified the alleged killers were in their midst, Gillam Mayor Dwayne Forman explains the community took a moment to breathe upon realizing they are safe.
"[I] definitely could see a sign of relief, but still a sadness in a lot of people's eyes at even more lives lost," he told Lynch.
Asked how he has coped with the invasion of hundreds of heavily armed officers, who scoured the harsh terrain for the fugitives, Forman simply explained: "My wife says I don't get stressed out, so I'll be fine."
His chief concern is helping residents move forward.
"It's impossible for us to know every single individual's process right now ... so I want them to know that as a community we have to come together, heal together."
Written by Amara McLaughlin. Produced by Allie Jaynes and Jessica Linzey.