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Canadian police: Suspects in ASU grad's murder found dead

GILLAM, Canada – The three-week-plus manhunt for two men suspected in the murder of a 2017 Appalachian State graduate and her boyfriend in northern British Columbia appears to be finished after two bodies were discovered along a northern Manitoba river, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“The search is over,” an Aug. 7 statement from the Manitoba RCMP said. “At (11 a.m. Eastern) this morning, Manitoba RCMP officers located the bodies of two males, believed to be the BC suspects, near the shoreline of the Nelson River.”

The two men, Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, both of Port Alberni, Canada, were the prime suspects in the deaths of Lucas Robertson Fowler, 23, of Australia, and Chynna Noelle Deese, 24, of Charlotte, which took place near Liard River in British Columbia on either July 14 or 15.

“An autopsy is being scheduled in Winnipeg to confirm their identities and to determine their cause of death,” the Manitoba RCMP stated on Aug. 7.

Deese received a bachelor’s of science in psychology in spring 2017, as confirmed by ASU spokesperson Megan Hayes, and was a member of ASU’s Zeta Tau Alpha sorority chapter.

A memorial service for Deese was held on July 27 in Charlotte.

The two were exploring the area and at the location of the murders, were sitting on the side of the road near their van after the engine flooded, according to media reports.

“We can now confirm that Deese and Fowler were the victims of gun violence and the 1986 blue Chevrolet van with Alberta license plates was owned by Fowler and was being used by the couple to explore northern British Columbia,” a July 22 statement from the British Columbia RCMP stated.

McLeod and Schmegelsky were also wanted in connection with the death of Leonard Dyck, 64, of Vancouver, who was discovered on July 19 near Dease Lake in British Columbia, approximately 290 miles by car from where Fowler and Deese were found.

According to RCMP, the two suspects abandoned their truck on a northern British Columbia highway, where it was later discovered on fire on July 19, followed by a body later identified as Dyck, less than two miles away.

“Upon arrival, Dease Lake Frontline RCMP members located a pickup truck on fire, with no one located in the vehicle,” a July 19 British Columbia RCMP statement said. “At the time the vehicle fire was being investigated, a passing motorist advised the members at the still burning vehicle that they had just seen what they believed to be a body at a nearby highway pullout.”

The Aug. 7 discovery of the two bodies believed to be McLeod and Schemgelsky in northern Manitoba followed Aug. 2 leads of a burned vehicle, later confirmed to belong to Dyck, along the Nelson River near Gillam, along with a damaged boat found nearby and items directly linked to the suspects.

“Specialized RCMP teams began searching nearby high-probability areas, leading officers to the discovery of the two male bodies, in the dense brush, within (less than a mile) from where the items were found,” the Aug. 7 Manitoba RCMP statement said.

Gillam, a small town in northern Manitoba of 1,200 people, is an estimated 1,800 miles by car from Liard River and approximately 2,100 miles by car from Dease Lake.

The national manhunt followed tips in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where police and military forces searched the towns of Gillam and York Landing, plus the Cree Nation reservation at Fox Lake and the War Lake First Nation reservation in Ilford, according to the Manitoba RCMP.


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Moms Demand Action hosts vigil for weekend shooting victims

BOONE — The names of the 22 known victims killed in a shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3 and the nine known victims of another shooting in Dayton, Ohio, the following day — with others wounded in both — were read aloud at a candlelight vigil in Boone.

The local Moms Demand Action group organized the Aug. 6 event, where community members gathered outside of the Jones House on King Street to grieve together over the weekend shootings. Moms Demand Action is a national organization that is a grassroots movement of people advocating for public safety measures for protection from gun violence, according to the organization.

According to CNN, 22 people died and more than two dozen wounded when a shooter opened fire in El Paso, Texas. The morning of Aug. 4, another shooter killed nine people and injured 27 others, according to the Dayton Daily News.

Rev. Stephanie Hankins, a leader of the Presbyterian Episcopal Campus Ministry at Appalachian State University, said the local MDA chapter felt moved by the weekend shootings and wanted a place where people could gather so they wouldn’t have to feel alone.

“I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling frustrated, angry, sad and feeling like I’m fighting to bring about change that may possibly never come,” Hankins said. “It’s good to see that other people want to come together and be together.”

The nation is at a point where sharing thoughts and prayers after tragedy is no longer enough, Hankins said. She then quoted a Bible verse from the New Testament that states, “We must not love in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

Hankin called the group to action, and said it was time for the public to call those who are in a position to enact change. Kathy Parham, another representative of the local MDA, echoed these sentiments and said people often have a feeling nothing can be done.

“That is a lie. If we let apathy control us, we might as well just roll over,” Parham said.

Parham added that the public needs to make it known that politicians are safe and supported to endorse sensible gun legislation.

N.C. Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) could not be at the vigil, but a statement from him was read aloud. In the statement, Russell was quoted as saying he was grieving for the victims of the weekend shootings.

“I believe that we will rise up as a nation to truly address root causes including anger, racism, disenfranchisement, mental health and others, and we will address contributing causes such as the proliferation of guns in our community,” Russell said in the statement. “Sensible gun laws are supported by a vast majority of people in this state and in this country. While this problem should be addressed by the federal government, states need to do what we can to stand in the gap until Congress does its job.”

Some of the steps toward reducing gun violence that Russell suggested were universal background checks, red flag laws that attempt to keep guns from people who are likely to harm themselves and others, limiting the sales of weapons of war (like semi-automatic assault weapons), limiting the capacity of ammunition clips, mandatory waiting periods after the time of purchase and requiring safe storage of weapons. He said these were are all supported by a vast majority of Americans.

“I’m tired of hearing that these steps would not solve all of the problems,” Russell was quoted as saying. “We know they won’t solve all problems. More importantly, we know what we are doing now, or more correctly what we are not doing, currently is not working.”

The Charlotte Observer quotes Paul Valone, president of North Carolina’s largest gun rights group — Grass Roots North Carolina — as saying that the solution to halting mass shootings isn’t limiting access to firearms. The publication stated that Valone opposes measures proposed in House Bill 86 — which would restrict who can obtain firearms.

HB86 was filed in the N.C. House on Feb. 14 and would require a permit for the purchase ofassault weapons and long guns (like rifles); require a 72-hour waiting period before the buyer could take the gun home; restrict assault-style weapon purchases from those under 21 years of age; require citizens to purchase firearm liability insurance; require a reduction in the recognition of concealed-carry permits issued by other states; and require a ban on trigger cranks and bump stocks, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Rather, Grass Roots North Carolina advocates for loosening up carrying laws to allow guns to be allowed in more areas than are currently permitted, according to the Charlotte Observer. The group thinks this would discourage shooters from targeting unarmed civilians, the publication stated.

Attendees at the Aug. 6 vigil also heard from 17-year-old Galen Miller, a representative of the local Students Demand Action chapter. He said he was in Washington, D.C., during the weekend along with other activists when these two shootings happened. He joined 2,000 other activists — including 250 student leaders from across the country — that weekend. Word quickly spread to the crowd of the first shooting.

“This prompted a level of furious action the likes of which I’ve never seen before,” Miller said.

A protest took place at 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 3, and many were still awake when news broke of the Sunday morning shooting in Dayton. He said that gun-sense activists will not stop advocating for change.

“We are different than the NRA. We are different than the gun manufacturers. We are different than our current lawmakers and administration,” Miller said. “Unlike them, we care.”

Miller told those in attendance to keep going in the search for change, and to take action to the voting polls.

The crowd of 40 or so people gathered on the Jones House lawn, then shared a moment of silence as the names were read, and handheld candles were lit.

For more information on Moms Demand Action, visit momsdemandaction.org.


News
NC appeals court orders competency determination in child sex case
Vilas man previously sentenced to 150 years in 2018

RALEIGH — In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled to remand a case involving a Vilas man convicted in January 2018 of child sexual abuse crimes, pending a determination on whether he was competent to stand trial at the time.

The ruling concerns Jack Howard Hollars of Vilas. In January 2018, Hollars was convicted of three counts of second-degree sex offense and three counts of indecent liberties with a child, with the crimes alleged to have taken place from 1977-1981. Hollars was sentenced to 150 years in prison following a three-day trial in Watauga County Superior Court.

“Because we have found that the trial court erred by failing to hold a competency hearing immediately prior to or during (Hollars’) trial, we ... remand to the trial court for a determination of whether a meaningful retrospective hearing can be conducted on the issue of (Hollars’) competency at the time of his trial,” the court states.

The three-judge panel gave its opinion on Aug. 6 in a 2-1 decision, with Judge Toby Hampson giving the opinion of the court, joined by Judge Hunter Murphy, with Judge Philip Berger Jr. dissenting.

The case was heard in the N.C. Court of Appeals on March 28. N.C. Special Deputy Attorney General Josephine N. Tetteh presented the state’s case on behalf of the attorney general, and Assistant Appellate Defender Anne M. Gomez represented Hollars in the hearing.

“While we’re happy with the ruling, we’re disappointed it wasn’t a unanimous decision,” Gomez said.

With the decision not being unanimous, the case can be automatically appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court.

“If a member of the three-judge panel disagrees with the decision of the majority, that judge may write a dissent and the parties in the case will have a right of appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina,” the N.C. Court of Appeals’ website states.

That decision has to come within the next 35 days, according to Gomez. The N.C. Attorney General’s office said that Tetteh no longer works in the office and that they are reviewing the case for a potential appeal.

District Attorney Seth Banks, whose office tried the original criminal case in January 2018, declined to comment.

According to Hampson’s opinion, if the trial court concludes that a retrospective determination is still possible, a competency hearing will be held.

“If the conclusion is that the defendant was competent, no new trial will be required,” Hampson’s decision states. “If the trial court determines that a meaningful hearing is no longer possible, defendant’s conviction must be reversed and a new trial may be granted when he is competent to stand trial.”

In his opinion, Hampson stated there was substantive evidence before the court that raised “a bona fide doubt as to (Hollars’) competency to stand trial,” noting his extensive history of mental illness, concerns raised by Hollars’ attorney during the trial and a five-month gap between his competency hearing and his trial.

According to Hampson’s factual background in the Aug. 6 ruling, Hollars was originally arrested in February 2012 in relation to the case with further indictments following in 2013 and 2015. Between his original arrest in 2012 and the trial six years later, eight forensic evaluations with divergent findings were conducted, according to Berger’s dissent. Out of those eight evaluations, five of them found Hollars to be competent and three of them found him to be not competent, Berger’s findings states.

The last of those evaluations occurred five months before the January 2018 trial. During the trial, Hollars’ defense attorney stated multiple times during the three days that the defendant didn’t understand what was going on, according to Hampson’s factual background.

Berger’s dissent says that Hollars was shown to be competent during the trial. Berger’s reason was that the court’s inquiry of the defense counsel on the start of the second day satisfied the competency requirement.