Today we learned that the bodies of the two fugitives suspected of 3 murders were found on the banks of the Nelson River in northern Manitoba.
For three weeks the RCMP had been trying to track Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, from Port Alberni. The cops allege the teens shot a young tourist couple and a university botanist. The murders of the couple and the single man took place hundreds of kilometers apart.
At the outset, it was feared that the “boys”, who went missing, had also been victims of a gunman – -like the tourists and the botanist. But suddenly everything changed when the RCMP labeled Schmegelsky and McLeod suspects. They were and armed and dangerous.
Two weeks ago, a young girl in Gillam, Manitoba (population 1200) said she saw the suspects in town. Gillam is one of the furthest north towns in the province– 1070 km from Winnipeg. Last weekend, police divers searched the cold and fast running Nelson River near Gillam after discovering a wrecked aluminum canoe.
Police told residents of Gillam, and York Landing (a town 4 hours’ drive away) to keep their doors locked and their children in the house. About half the residents of Gillam are members of Fox Lake Cree Nation; York Landing is a First Nation reserve. So Indigenous people were warned that there was a serious risk from two white men who could be killers.
Now RCMP had all but given up their search. At first they claimed that the rough and marshy terrain, the swarms of insects and the lack of roads and shelter would force the suspects to surrender. The police brought in search equipment, infra-red locators, and army issued gear to help them search. But the leads went nowhere. After nearly three weeks, the RCMP retreated.
In what alternate universe would the police have merely waited for murder suspects’ dead bodies to show up? If there were three murders in a city or any sizable town, the police would not have stopped their search. But because the culprits were seen in two tiny towns 1000 plus km from any city, the cops just waited. The danger was to Indigenous people, not to whites. And there was the element that these “young” men were not so dangerous – no hard evidence of drugs or violence. The media, their families and everyone who knew them thought they were basically “good boys”.
Who are these two “good boys”? They were young men—not overgrown boys. Somehow they got infantalized by the media, and by their own families and neighbours. For example, Alan Schmegelsky (Bryer’s dad) said many times that these were “good boys” who had worked hard at Walmart for 5 weeks to earn money to travel. However Bryer, who had just graduated from Grade 12, posted pictures of himself in army fatigues festooned with Nazi armbands, and decals on his guns. He was obsessed with World War II, and Nazi memorabilia.
After working for a mere 5 weeks, Bryer Schmegelsky’s major purchase was a black suit. Alan, his father, insisted Bryer bought it for his own funeral because his “good” son was planning to get killed in a shoot out with the police and die in a “blaze of glory.” The dad, a catch in his throat, told the media that his son was “in some very serious pain.” Kam McLeod’s dad said his son was “kind, considerate and caring.” The media didn’t come down hard on them. There had to have been a logical explanation for the murders – how could it be young men who kept to themselves and never caused trouble– could randomly kill 3 people?
Maclean’s magazine’s journalist Andray Domise recently wrote about the presumed innocence of white young people, compared to the assumed culpability of black youth, “white youth who commit atrocities in the name of white nationalism are not only draped in the innocence of childhood from birth, but are covered by its long tails into adulthoodpresumption of guilt.” Too often white youth are considered innocent until proven bad, while black youth are deemed no good from the get-go.
Imagine if the suspects were Muslim, or Black. It’s very doubtful the cops would have given up and sat back and waited. It may be that the cops thought the suspects were already be dead – but the Indigenous folk of northern Manitoba still had to keep doors locked and kids inside in the stifling mid-summer heat –until when? Until today.
So what we had was a terrorized Indigenous population—threatened by two white men who no one had the nerve to call terrorists. Because they were white, and “good boys” the police gave up active pursuit. But the people of Gillam and York Landing just had to worry and wait.
The Mounties always get their men, until they don’t.T