First birthday of the murdered Australian tourist Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend in Canada
Clint Sawchuk remembers going to bed with a loaded gun next to him, and the fear that came down in his small Canadian town.
Curtis Broughton remembers the smile and joy that Australian tourist Lucas Fowler and American girlfriend Chynna Deese exhaled during their accidental encounter on a highway.
Broughton also recalls the horror he felt when news reports described the couple being shot dead hours later and their bodies left in a ditch.
July 15 marks the first anniversary of the senseless murders of Fowler and Deese.
The love-stricken couple was on a road trip adventure through Canada when their 1986 blue Chevrolet van broke down on an isolated section of the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia.
American backpacker Chynna Deese (right) and her Australian friend Lucas Fowler (left), who were found dead on July 15, 2019 after their van broke down on the Alaska Highway, British Columbia, Canada
The love-stricken couple was on a road trip adventure through Canada when their 1986 blue Chevrolet van broke down on an isolated section of the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia
July 15 marks the first anniversary of the senseless murders of Fowler and Deese
“They were happy, smiling, beautiful people,” said Broughton, one of the last people to see Fowler and Deese alive.
It was a warm afternoon on July 14 last year when Broughton, wife Sandra and sons Lewis (11) and Mason (six) drove home after a week-long camping trip in the Yukon.
The area was isolated and cell phone coverage was patchy.
As the Broughtons drove south along the Alaska Highway near Liard River Hot Springs, they saw the broken Chevy van.
Broughton, a mechanic, stopped to provide assistance.
Fowler, the 23-year-old son of NSW superintendent Stephen Fowler, was also handy under the hood, and Broughton was impressed.
The van’s engine was flooded.
“They were happy, smiling, beautiful people,” said Curtis Broughton, one of the last people to see Fowler and Deese alive.
“He explained exactly what he thought was wrong, and it made sense to me,” said Broughton.
“They had a lot of food and a lot of water and just hung out and had lunch.”
The Broughtons went on home.
The following day, Fowler and Deese, 24, from North Carolina, were found dead in the ditch near the van.
Police determined that 18-year-old Kam McLeod and 19-year-old Bryer Schmegelsky, who had quit their jobs at a Walmart in Vancouver Island, were seeking prominence and started a murderous disaster.
They ran into stranded Fowler and Deese and fired them multiple times with SKS semiautomatic rifles.
Four days later, and 460 km from where Fowler and Deese were murdered, McLeod and Schmegelsky, looking for a new getaway car, ran into 64-year-old university teacher Leonard Dyck on the side of another highway.
BRITISH COLUMBIA BACKPACKER MURDERS: A TIMELINE
July 15: At 7.19 am, the Royal Mounted Canadian Police are called to the side of the road on the Alaska Highway, in remote British Columbia.
Police found the bodies of a young man and woman about 20 km south of Liard Hot Springs, not far from a worn-out blue minivan.
16th of July: Police publicly announce that the two bodies have been found dead on Highway 97, but say “no further information is available”
July 17: Investigators Ask Anyone Who May Have Seen or Have Dash Cam Images on Sundays Between 4:00 PM and Monday at 8:00 AM to Report
July 18: Detectives confirm the identities of the two dead as Lucas Fowler, 24, and Chynna Deese, 23
About 470 km away at Dease Lake, the police discover an abandoned truck
July 19: Leonard Dyck’s body is found two kilometers from the burnt-out remains of the truck that McLeod and Schmegelsky drove into
21 July: Witness tells media about seeing a ‘bearded man’ having a ‘heated exchange’ with Fowler and Deese on the side of the highway
July 22: Photos of the Fowler and Deese minivan with a blown-out rear window appear
Police are urging two missing men at Dease Lake, Kam McLeod (19) and Bryer Schmegelsky (18)
July 23: McLeod and Schmegelsky are listed as suspects – a massive search is underway
A gray Toyota RAV 4 driven by the pair is spotted in northern Saskatchewan
A burned-out car is found near the city of Gillam, Manitoba.
July 29: York Landing in Manitoba is locked up after two men were spotted searching for food in a landfill
July 31: No evidence of two suspects of teenage murder was found in the manhunt of the police, the military, detection dogs and drones.
1 August: Police are beginning to search the province of Ontario, 2000 km from where the couple was last seen, after reports of a suspicious vehicle near Kapuskasing
August 2: Police say the sighting of the couple in Ontario was not credible as Lucas Fowler’s friends and family hold an emotional monument to him in Sydney
Police find several items directly related to suspects near the Nelson River after a battered rowboat comes ashore
3 August: Ontario police reveal that they received more than 30 tips in just eight hours and say they follow them all
August 6: The Nelson River search is interrupted and police block the town of Sundance, abandoned since 1992, which once housed a murder suspect for three years
August 7: Canadian police announce that two male bodies believed to be from McLeod and Schmegelsky were found in ‘dense bush’ on the Nelson River, five miles from where they left the burning car
They shot Dyck, stole his Toyota RAV4, money and digital camera, set fire to their own Dodge pickup and drove 3000 km east to Gillam.
The teenagers recorded videos using Mr. Dyck’s camera.
In a video retrieved by the police, they described how they intended to hijack a boat and sail from Canada to Africa or Europe to avoid the authorities.
On July 23, the teens dumped the RAV4 on a dirt track outside Gillam, set it on fire and disappeared into the wilderness.
“Fear,” said Gillam, local Clint Sawchuk, who described the feeling of the city when the car was found.
“Two children came to a city that is very peaceful 98 percent of the time and suddenly all hell broke loose.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Army, including the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules and a CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft equipped with infrared cameras and image radar, flooded the area.
Sawchuk slept with a shotgun to protect his family, and other residents also carried weapons.
They avoided standing by the windows in their houses for fear of being shot by the teenagers.
Sawchuk, who runs the Nelson River Adventures company, broke through when he went along the river with a group of tourists.
He saw a blue sleeping bag entangled in willow trees.
RCMP officers accompanied him as they searched the area.
The search for McLeod and Schmegelsky took weeks and thousands of miles
Kam McLeod (left), 18, and Bryer Schmegelsky (right), 19, murdered in northern British Columbia in July, with Mr. Fowler, 23, from Sydney, and Mrs. Deese, 24, from North Carolina were first shot.
The teenage killers ended their lives after being stranded in an area near a fast-moving river and dense forest
Schmegelsky and McLeod bodies were found less than a mile from the Nelson River (pictured) outside of Gillam
The teenagers ended their own lives in thickets by the river.
“After the bodies were found, I just cut off all communication with them,” Sawchuk said.
“I didn’t watch the news. I was just glad it was over. ‘
A truck driver who regularly drives along the Alaska Highway where Fowler and Deese were murdered placed a cross on the site last year.
It has a memorial inspired with Australian flags, maps, painted rocks, crosses and other items.
The young couple met backpacking in Croatia and their adventurous spirit touched the Broughton family.
“I did the same to my wife long before we even thought of getting married,” Broughton said.
“We jumped in the truck two or three times and would be gone for two weeks or a month.
“We were also about their age. That’s all they did. They found themselves. ‘
Schmegelsky and McLeod also killed 64-year-old botanist Leonard Dyck, whose body was discovered on July 19 on a highway in BC a mile from an abandoned and burning pickup truck the pair had driven into.