Police are scaling down their search for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky in northern Manitoba, and aren't ruling out whether the teen fugitives have fled the area, or are dead.
Jane MacLatchy, assistant commissioner and commanding officer for the Manitoba RCMP, said Wednesday that despite an "extraordinary effort" to find Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, it was time for the force to reassess how it was deploying resources to the search.
Over the next week, specialized RCMP investigators and Canadian air force personnel will be withdrawn in phases, MacLatchy said. Some frontline and tactical officers will remain in the Gillam area, she said.
"To be clear, we are not ending this search," MacLatchy told reporters in Winnipeg.
"I know that today's news is not what the families of the victims and the communities of northern Manitoba wanted to hear. But when searching for people in vast, remote, and rugged locations, it is always a possibility that they are not immediately located."
Over the last nine days, police and military have logged thousands of hours in what has been a 24-7 search effort, MacLatchy said. Investigators have chased nearly 300 tips, canvassed more than 500 homes, and searched 11,000 square kilometres of northern Manitoba wilderness by foot and air.
The military remains on standby if and when needed, as do other RCMP resources that will be deployed should new information emerge, MacLatchy said.
McLeod, 19, and Schmegelsky, 18, are wanted on Canada-wide arrest warrants for the murder of Leonard Dyck, a Vancouver university professor, near Dease Lake on July 19.
They are also suspects in the fatal shootings of Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese, both international tourists, near Liard Hot Springs on July 15.
They were last confirmed to have been seen on July 22 in Gillam, where they torched and abandoned the vehicle they were last seen driving.
MacLatchy said Manitoba RCMP was informed on July 23 that the fugitives may have been in the province, and immediately deployed a search team.
She could not speak to reports on social media that the pair have been spotted in Ontario. She also didn't rule out that they had long fled the area, or are dead.
"Everything is possible at this stage," MacLatchy said. "The north part of the province is a very unforgiving place. We're keeping all possibilities in mind."
MacLatchy told Canadians to remain on alert, and encouraged them to keep submitting tips.
"Something that might seem insignificant to you may be extremely valuable to our investigators," she said.