The young couple wrapped their arms around each other as they pumped gas during their road trip in Canada – a quick but intimate embrace captured by surveillance cameras.
North Carolina resident Chynna Deese, 24, cleaned the windshield of the blue Chevrolet van while her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, 23, filled the gas tank. Then they got back on the road and made their way through British Columbia’s pristine wilderness.
On July 15, two days after that brief stop in Fort Nelson, they were found shot dead on a remote highway in northern British Columbia. Fowler’s van sat nearby.
Four days later, as police searched for clues on the killers and panicked residents in the rural north shuttered their homes, tragedy struck again.
Nearly 300 miles away from the crime scene, the body of Vancouver university professor Leonard Dyck was discovered near a burning car. Investigators believe all three victims were killed by a pair of teenagers prowling the area.
The teens, once considered missing and feared dead, are on the run.
The suspects may be in disguise
The manhunt for suspects Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, is focused on Gillam, a tight-knit rural town of about 1,000 people in northern Manitoba.
The teens were seen there last week, and investigators are scouring a rugged terrain for clues on their whereabouts. Early Sunday, police tweeted a photo of a polar bear spotted during the search about 120 miles north of Gillam.
A Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules is assisting with the aerial search as police knock on doors in Gillam and Fox Lake Cree Nation over the next few days.
While there have been no sightings of the suspects outside the region, police are not ruling out the possibility they may be gone. They also likely altered their appearance and may be wearing disguises, authorities said.
“It is possible that someone may not have been aware of who they were providing assistance to, and may now be hesitant to come forward,” said Cpl. Julie Courchaine, a Manitoba police spokeswoman. “I want to reiterate the importance of contacting police immediately.”
Before authorities described the teens as armed and dangerous suspects, they initially believed they were missing.
The suspects’ car was discarded and burned outside of Gillam near the Fox Lake Cree Nation reserve. One of their alleged victims, the professor, was found nearby.
The victims are mourned on two continents
Hundreds of miles away from the crime scenes, heartbroken relatives on two continents are grieving a tragic love story that started when Fowler and Deese met in Croatia years ago.
Relatives remembered the couple as avid travelers with a passion for exploring. Fowler was having the time of his life traveling the world with a woman he loved, said his father, Stephen Fowler, a police inspector in Australia’s New South Wales Police Force.
“To lose someone so young and vibrant, who was traveling the world and just enjoying life to the full, is devastating,” his family said in a statement. “To know his beautiful girlfriend … also lost her life in this violent event is too cruel.”
Fowler was working at a ranch in British Columbia while his girlfriend was visiting him.
“He loved animals,” said Erika Weder, who hired Fowler at the ranch in February. “He wanted to get more experience with animals, learn about ranching in Canada in general, just to experience the West. That was one of his dreams.”
Weder told CNN partner CBC that the news left them stunned. “You hear about things like that in movies and all of a sudden it’s someone you know,” she said.
Deese’s mother said she’s watched the surveillance video over and over again, and can’t believe her daughter is gone. She loved traveling and would be away for long periods of time – but she always came home.
“It just doesn’t seem real because in my mind I’m hoping she’s gonna come home,” Sheila Deese told CNN affiliate WBTV. “She loved sunflowers, volunteering, traveling, people, animals. She just loved on everybody.”
Dyck was a lecturer in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Botany and worked as a research associate focusing on seaweeds. His family said his death “created unthinkable grief” and they are struggling to understand what happened.
CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg, Rebekah Riess, Eric Levenson and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.