A rural Manitoba First Nations safety officer had a brush with Canada’s most sought after murder suspects and he didn’t even know it.
On July 22, Albert Saunders pulled over accused teenage killers Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky after they failed to stop at a traffic checkpoint, according to The Daily Mail. The news of their alleged murderous rampage in northern British Columbia — nearly 2,000 miles away — hadn’t yet reached Saunders’ tiny and isolated community of Split Lake.
The following day, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police put the country on alert and a nationwide manhunt began. It was then Saunders realized just who he had pulled over.
“I didn't really know those guys were on the run. That's why I didn't think much about it at first, until after they posted the pictures of them the next day,” Saunders told The Daily Mail.
McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, 18, are accused of murdering North Carolina woman Chynna Deese, 24, and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, 23, near Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia on July 15. The couple’s bodies were discovered alongside a highway outside of town with multiple bullet wounds.
Four days later, authorities found the body of botanist Leonard Dyck, 64, in Dease Lake, British Columbia, as well. It’s believed McLeod and Schmegelsky then stole his vehicle— a silver 2011 Toyota RAV4 — and headed east.
But for Saunders, the realization that he had come face to face with two accused murderers shook him to the core.
“After I found out who they were, I realized I could have got shot, or something could have happened to us,” Saunders recalled. “I was thinking about it a lot after I found out.”
McLeod and Schmegelsky initially attracted Saunders’ attention because they failed to stop at a police checkpoint, the Daily Mail reported.
“They slowed down and then they drove by,” he said. “I had the lights on and I was standing outside the truck. Me and my partner jumped in the truck and we went to stop them.”
The RAV4 the pair was driving hadn’t been reported as stolen yet. Saunders and his partner searched the SUV but found nothing substantial.
"I told them I was going to do a quick search, and then I searched up," Saunders said. "They kept looking at each other. There was a couple of boxes in the back."
All the safety officers found were “survival gear, blankets and a lot of maps,” according to Town Councilor Robert Spence, the Daily Mail reported. The pair reportedly apologized to Saunders for blowing through the checkpoint.
Yet, Spence said the run-in “freaked out” Saunders and has rocked the otherwise sleepy community. “They were pretty damn lucky they didn't get shot or killed for stopping those two individuals,” he said.
Spence added that neither Saunders nor his partner had bulletproof vests, guns, pepper spray or even a baton. They conducted the traffic stop in plainclothes, according to The Daily Mail.
Other witnesses in Split Lake have said that they saw the pair buying gas, Newsweek reported.
"The guy who paid for the gas — he was quiet, he didn't say anything, he was just looking down," said a station attendant, according to Newsweek. "They seemed like, I don't know, normal. I'm just so nervous right now thinking about it."
The manhunt for McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky is ongoing. Canadian law enforcement have moved the focus of their search around the small town of York Landing in northeast Manitoba. Authorities believe McLeod and Schmegelsky were recently spotted at a garbage dump near the community of under 500 people.
“It is critical that residents of York Landing remain vigilant & stay indoors as much as possible with their doors locked, & to report anything suspicious by calling their local police immediately,” RCMP Manitoba tweeted.
In the meantime, Saunders, the rural safety officer can’t help but feel regret over his fleeting confrontation with McLeod and Schmegelsky.
“I feel I could have done something more, like I should have done something earlier,” he added in the Daily Mail interview.
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