The hunt for two teens suspected of gunning down three people, including an Australian backpacker and his American girlfriend, on a lonely Canadian highway has taken a dramatic turn.

Heavily armoured Royal Canadian Mounted Police SWAT team trucks have descended on the remote town of Gillam in northern Canada, where Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, dumped and torched their latest getaway vehicle.

Locals say the region is full of dangerous animals — including polar bears and wolves — and warn that if the police don’t catch up with the fugitives, the predators will.

CBC News said police were spotted searching land around the town with dogs and a drone, while also conducting rigorous vehicle checks in the area. One local woman they spoke to said the “community is freaking out because we’re not used to this – nobody locks their door.”

But even as the massive search continued through the night local time, there were unconfirmed sightings of the pair in Split Lake, some 85km north of Gillam, which has a population of just 1200.

McLeod and Schmegelsky have been missing since their Dodge pick-up truck was found abandoned and on fire on the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia on July 19.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) today confirmed McLeod and Schmegelsky are prime suspects in the murders of Sydney man Lucas Fowler, 23, and his girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, last week.

The couple had been travelling through northern British Columbia en route to Alaska when they were found shot to death alongside their blue Chevrolet mini-van on July 15.

Curtis and Sandra Broughton, who are believed to be among the last people to have seen Mr Fowler and Ms Deese alive, have told police of assisting the couple after their van broke down on the side of the road on July 14.

On July 19, University of British Columbia lecturer Leonard Dyck, 64, was found dead near Lake Dease, two kilometres from the teens’ burnt out Dodge and almost 500km from where Mr Fowler and Ms Deese’s bodies were discovered.

Investigators have linked the teens to all three shooting murders and have warned the public they should “consider them armed and dangerous”.

McLeod’s father broke his silence on Thursday evening to protest that his son was “kind” and “caring”.

In a short statement, Keith McLeod his family was “trapped in our homes” and was being hounded by “relentless media … for information we don’t have”.

“This is what I do know,” he said, “Kam is a kind, considerate , caring young man always has been concerned about other people’s feelings.”

TEENS VANISH IN PREDATOR INFESTED SWAMPLAND

The RCMP yesterday confirmed a Toyota Rav-4 SUV found alight in bush at the Fox Cree First Nation reserve on Monday was driven across three provinces to the rural and largely uninhabited region of Manitoba.

The reserve is about 55km from the tiny town of Gillam, which has been in near-lockdown since police put out an alert warning the pair could be headed there.

Police have set up a roadblock at the intersection of the only road leading to the settlement, searching all vehicles coming in and out of the area, which is rugged, heavily forested and full of swamps.

Officers are currently grid searching a designated area of about 70 sqkm with the help of police dogs and drones.

As well as being prowled by bears and wolves, the area is also plagued by seasonal infestations of ticks, sandflies and mosquitoes, which would make sleeping out in the open unbearable.

“If they are wandering around in the bush, they couldn’t have picked a worse time because the sandflies came out three days ago and they’re just voracious,” Gillam Deputy Mayor John McDonald said on Thursday.

“I’m quite sure they’ll be more than happy to have someone find them.”

Mayor Dwayne Forman said the possibility of McLeod and Schmegelsky lurking unseen nearby had left residents on edge, with many locking their doors for the first time in years.

“I can totally understand that they might be anxious — I am as well — because it’s an unknown. We don’t know what’s happening right now,” Mr Forman said.

“If you feel unsafe, stay indoors and always travel in groups.”

But the mayor believed it was unlikely the teens — who are both 193cm tall — could have ventured into the town without having been spotted “because everyone knows everyone else”.

Others are convinced the suspects are long gone, possibly having jumped on a train to Churchill — a port on Hudson Bay known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World and, to a lesser extent, the Beluga Whale Capital of the World.

The port is around 270km from Gillam and popular with tourists, who flock to the pristine harbour to join whale and bear spotting boat and air tours.

If the suspects make it that far, they could easily steal a boat or a car. The ever present threat of polar bears means that locals never lock their cars. Authorities advise anyone under attack to jump into the nearest car and shut themselves inside.

On Monday, Schmegelsky’s father Alan revealed Bryer had told him he and Kam had been “training in war” in the woods for more than two years and were masters of camouflage.

He said he believed they had witnessed Mr Dyck’s murder and had fled to the woods, pursued by the real killer.

But by Thursday, Mr Schmegelsky was a broken man, predicting the pair would die in a gunfight with police in the next 48 hours.

NEW SIGHTINGS

RCMP Corporal Julie Courchaine told reporters in Winnipeg on Thursday that locals could expect a “heavier police presence” in the Gillam area while the manhunt continues.

A fleet of armoured SWAT team trucks set off for Gillam on Thursday afternoon to join the search.

Hundreds of officers, equipped with police dogs, drones and other high tech surveillance equipment, have been combing the hostile scrub for clues to the teens’ whereabouts.

But even as the reinforcements were being called in, there was an unconfirmed sighting of McLeod and Schmegelsky at Split Lake, some 85km north of the current search area.

Petrol station worker Michelle Keeper told CBC News she believes she served the pair on Monday at about 4pm. It was not clear what vehicle they were travelling in at the time or whether the encounter happened before or after SUV was found dumped at Gillam.

Ms Keeper said McLeod paid for $20 worth of fuel and Schmegelsky asked if they could consume alcohol in the First Nations community, which is dry.

“The guy who paid for the gas — he was quiet, he didn’t say anything, he was just looking down,” she told CBC.

“They seemed like, I don’t know, normal. I’m just so nervous right now thinking about it.”

Ms Keeper said she didn’t realised she had served the fugitives until she saw the RCMP’s updated suspect photographs the following day.

She said McLeod was still sporting a short beard and Schmegelsky was wearing the same camouflaged shirt seen in the police alert.

The murderous trail of destruction has played out in terrain so isolated that there is often no internet or phone coverage. As a result, sightings of the pair have been 24 to 48 hours old by the time they are communicated, allowing the suspects to stay several steps ahead of authorities.

“The investigation is complex and if we have a confirmed sighting we will let everyone know as soon as possible,” Cpl Courchaine told CBC News when asked about the Split Lake sighting.

“Obviously we are looking at the terrain and you know different routes and what possibly could have happened.

“We are investigating all tips and continuing to ask for the public’s assistance.”

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