Clint Sawchuk remembers going to bed with a loaded shotgun beside him, and the fear that descended on his small Canadian town.
Curtis Broughton remembers the smiles and joy Australian tourist Lucas Fowler and American girlfriend Chynna Deese exuded during their chance meeting on a highway.
Broughton also recalls the horror he felt when news reports described how the couple were shot dead hours later and their bodies left in a ditch.
July 15 marks the first anniversary of the senseless murders of Fowler and Deese.
The love-struck couple was on a road trip adventure across Canada when their blue 1986 Chevrolet van broke down on an isolated section of the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia.
American backpacker Chynna Deese (right) and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler (left), who were found dead on July 15 2019 after their van broke down on the Alaska Highway, British Columbia, Canada +10
The love-struck couple was on a road trip adventure across Canada when their blue 1986 Chevrolet van broke down on an isolated section of the Alaska Highway in northern British Columbia+10
July 15 marks the first anniversary of the senseless murders of Fowler and Deese
‘They were happy, smiling, beautiful people,’ said Broughton, who was one of the last people to see Fowler and Deese alive.
It was a warm afternoon on July 14 last year when Broughton, his wife Sandra and sons Lewis, 11, and Mason, six, were driving home from a week-long camping trip in the Yukon.
The area was isolated, mobile phone coverage patchy.
As the Broughtons headed south along the Alaska Highway near Liard River Hot Springs, they spotted the broken down Chevy van.
Broughton, a mechanic, pulled over to offer help.
Fowler, the 23-year-old son of NSW Police chief inspector Stephen Fowler, was also handy under the bonnet and Broughton was impressed.
The van’s engine was flooded.+10
‘They were happy, smiling, beautiful people,’ said Curtis Broughton, who was one of the last people to see Fowler and Deese alive
‘He explained exactly what he thought was wrong and it made sense to me,’ Broughton said.
‘They had lots of food and lots of water and were just hanging out and having lunch.’
The Broughtons continued home.
The next day Fowler and Deese, 24, from North Carolina, were found dead in the ditch near the van.
Police determined Kam McLeod, 18, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 19, who had quit their jobs at a Vancouver Island Walmart, were seeking notoriety and embarked on a murderous rampage.
They encountered the stranded Fowler and Deese and shot them multiple times with SKS semi-automatic rifles.
Four days later, and 460km from where Fowler and Deese were murdered, McLeod and Schmegelsky, seeking a new getaway car, came across 64-year-old University of British Columbia botany lecturer Leonard Dyck on the side of another highway.
BRITISH COLUMBIA BACKPACKER MURDERS: A TIMELINE
July 15: At 7.19am, Royal Mounted Canadian Police are called to the side of the road on the Alaska Highway, in remote British Columbia.
Police found the bodies of a young man and young woman about 20km south of the Liard Hot Springs, not far from a beat-up blue minivan.
July 16: Police publicly announce the two bodies were found dead on the side of Highway 97 but say ‘no further information is available’
July 17: Investigators ask anyone who may have seen, or have dashcam footage, between 4pm Sunday and 8am Monday to come forward
July 18: Detectives confirm the identities of the two dead as Lucas Fowler, 24, and Chynna Deese, 23
Some 470km away near Dease Lake, police discover an abandoned truck
July 19: The body of Leonard Dyck is found two kilometres from the burned-out remains of the truck McLeod and Schmegelsky were travelling in
July 21: Witness tells media of seeing a ‘bearded man’ having a ‘heated exchange’ with Fowler and Deese on the side of the highway
July 22: Pictures emerge of Fowler and Deese’s minivan with a blown out back window
Police issue urgent appeal for two men who have gone missing near Dease Lake, Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18
July 23: McLeod and Schmegelsky are named as suspects – a massive search gets underway
A grey Toyota RAV 4 being driven by the pair is spotted in northern Saskatchewan
A burnt-out car is found near the town of Gillam, Manitoba.
July 29: York Landing in Manitoba is thrown into lockdown after two men were spotted foraging for food at a landfill
July 31: Manhunt involving police, military, tracking dogs and drones has found no trace of two teenage murder suspects
August 1: Police begin searching the province of Ontario, 2,000km from where the pair were last seen, after reports of a suspicious vehicle near Kapuskasing
August 2: Police say the sighting of the pair in Ontario was not credible, as Lucas Fowler’s friends and family hold an emotional memorial for him in Sydney
Police find several items directly linked to the suspects near the Nelson River after a battered rowboat washes ashore
August 3: Ontario police reveal they received more than 30 tips in just eight hours, and say they are following up on every single one
August 6: The search in the Nelson River is called off, and police block off the town of Sundance, which has been abandoned since 1992, and once housed a murder suspect for three years
August 7: Canadian Police announce that two male bodies believed to belong to McLeod and Schmegelsky were found in ‘dense bush’ by the Nelson River, five miles from where they abandoned the burning car https://4746654e19dd6870800c68d092a769bb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
They shot Dyck dead, stole his Toyota RAV4, money and digital camera, set their own Dodge pick-up truck on fire and headed 3000km east to Gillam.
The teenagers recorded videos on Mr Dyck’s camera.
In one clip recovered by police, they described how they planned to hijack a boat and sail from Canada to Africa or Europe to elude authorities.
On July 23, the teenagers dumped the RAV4 on a gravel road outside Gillam, set it on fire and disappeared into the wilderness.
‘Fear,’ said Gillam local Clint Sawchuk, describing the feeling in the town when the car was found.
‘Two kids came to a town that 98 per cent of the time is very peaceful and all of a sudden all hell broke loose.’
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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian military, including Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules and a CP-140 Aurora patrol plane equipped with infrared cameras and imaging radar, flooded the area.
Sawchuk slept with a shotgun to protect his family, and other residents also carried guns.
They avoided standing near windows in their homes for fear of being shot by the teenagers.
Sawchuk, who runs sightseeing company Nelson River Adventures, made the breakthrough when he was taking a group of tourists along the river.
He spotted a blue sleeping bag tangled in willows.
RCMP officers joined him as they searched the area.
The search for McLeod and Schmegelsky spanned weeks and thousands of miles+10
Kam McLeod (left), 18, and Bryer Schmegelsky (right), 19, went on a murder rampage in northern British Columbia in July, first shooting dead Mr Fowler, 23, from Sydney, and Ms Deese, 24, from North Carolina +10
The teenage killers ended their lives after they became stranded in an area near a fast-moving river and thick bushland +10
The bodies of Schmegelsky and McLeod were found less than a mile from the Nelson River (pictured) outside of Gillam
The teenagers ended their own lives in scrub near the river.
‘After the bodies were found I just cut all communication with it,’ Sawchuk said.
‘I didn’t watch the news. I was just glad it was over.’
A truck driver who regularly drives along the Alaska Highway where Fowler and Deese were murdered placed a cross at the site last year.
It has inspired a memorial featuring Australian flags, cards, painted rocks, crosses and other items.
The young couple met backpacking in Croatia and their adventurous spirit touched the Broughton family.
‘I did the same thing with my wife long before we even thought about getting married,’ Broughton said.
‘Two or three times we jumped in the truck and would be gone for two weeks or a month.
‘We were about their age too. That’s all they were doing. They were finding themselves.’ +10
Schmegelsky and McLeod also killed botanist Leonard Dyck, 64, whose body was discovered on July 19 on a BC highway a mile away from an abandoned and burning pick-up truck the pair had been driving