Police are playing down the threat to public safety and suggestions of a serial killer after two young, international travellers were found murdered near Liard Hot Springs this week.
On Friday, Mounties said their investigation into the killings of Lucas Robertson Fowler, 23, of Australia, and his girlfriend Chynna Noelle Deese, 24, of North Carolina, early this week has just begun, and again pleaded to the public for information.
"We recognize this news is troubling for the entire community and absolutely appreciate there are concerns for safety, in an area that is popular with nature enthusiasts and tourists," Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said.
"This investigation is in it’s very infancy and it is not yet clear whether Lucas and Chynna were targeted or if this was a crime of opportunity."
There's no evidence yet to link the deaths to any other ongoing investigations in the area, or that there's a increased risk to the public, Shoihet said. There hasn't been an increase in crime in the area, she said. "Our investigators will consider any and all information carefully as the investigation progresses."
There's nothing to link the homicides to a serial killer, Shoithet said, responding to reports by some international media outlets that linked to the deaths to the Highway of Tears on Highway 16, or suggested that there was somehow a serial killer in the region. She called the deaths a "unique circumstance."
"There's some indications from international media that they may be related to other crimes that occurred in different parts of the province. We're talking about completely different geographical areas," Shoihet said. "There's nothing to link those two at this point."
A blue 1986 Chevrolet van with Alberta plates was found at the crime scene, 20 kilometres south of the hot springs. Shoihet would not say whether the couple's bodies were found inside or outside of the van, nor how they were killed. International media have reported the couple was shot to death.
Police are looking to speak with anyone who may have seen the van or tried to help Fowler or Deese between Sunday, July 14 at 4 p.m. and Monday, July 15 at 8 a.m. Police are looking for dashcam video as they narrow down the timeline of the killings.
"If you were a witness and you did see this particular van or you were witness to either Chynna or Lucas travelling in the area, contact us," Shoihet said.
"We recognize the fact people may be travelling there and have now arrived at their destination points. There's access to Alberta, Yukon, into Alaska … and there may be people who weren't aware (of the murders) until now and seeing that we're looking for these details."
Investigators are still on site, Shoihet said. More investigators will be brought in if needed, she said.
Fowler was the son of a New South Wales police inspector. He was living in B.C., but it's unclear where. His family is travelling with Australian police to Canada to bring his body back home.
Australian police are not helping RCMP investigate, Shoihet said, contrary to reports from international media. The FBI helped RCMP contact Deese's family in the U.S., Shoihet said.
A statement from Fowler's family was posted on the website of the New South Wales Police Department, describing Fowler as a dear son, brother, grandson and friend.
"To lose someone so young and vibrant, who was travelling the world and just enjoying life to the full, is devastating," the statement says. "To know his beautiful girlfriend, Chynna Deese of Charlotte, North Carolina also lost her life in this violent event is too cruel."
Deese was a graduate of Appalachian State University in North Carolina, with degrees in business and psychology. According to her Couchsurfing page, she was "traveling the world and looking to meet new people and experience new places from a local's point of view."
On social media, Deese's family said she had been visiting Fowler to help brand cows at the ranch he worked at, and to travel. The two had just begun a road trip, according to her brother, British.
"24 hrs ago I found out why my little sis didn’t text me back. Chynna and Lucas’ lives were abruptly taken from a random act of violence while starting their road trip through Canada," he wrote in one post.
"She’s is so deeply woven as a piece of my childhood and everyday life. I am forever indebted to her for being such an amazing life companion and giving me SO many reasons to smile."
Deese's sister, Kennedy, wrote: "It is with overwhelming sadness that I share my sister Chynna and her beloved boyfriend Lucas were recently found deceased. They were bright and beautiful souls. We are all still in shock and heartbroken."
Tourism operators along the stretch of remote highway say they are shocked by the news, and that they were open for business.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Northern Rockies RCMP at 250-774-2700 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.