EDMONTON - Alberta Mounties searching for two missing seniors made progress on two fronts Friday: they found the couple's SUV and announced they were hunting for a 38-year-old violent fugitive named Travis Vader.
Assistant Commissioner Peter Hourihan also admitted they botched the early stages of the investigation into the case of Lyle and Marie McCann. One of the officers involved has been ordered out of the field and onto desk duty, he said.
"A couple of mistakes have been made, I acknowledge that," Hourihan told reporters at a news conference at K Division headquarters.
"However, I want to emphasize that the key here is the investigation into the McCanns."
Lyle McCann, 78, and Marie, 77 — from St. Albert, on Edmonton's northern outskirts — have not been seen since they left home July 3 headed to British Columbia for a camping vacation.
The were driving their motorhome, towing behind them a green Hyundai Tucson SUV.
Two days later the motorhome was found burning in dense bush near Edson, 200 kilometres west of Edmonton. The SUV was gone and became the subject of a wide search publicized in the media.
Late Friday, the RCMP announced the SUV had been found. They said it was located off a bush trail, about 30 kilometers east of Edson near Carrot Creek, Alta.
Investigation spokesman Sgt. Patrick Webb said investigators, which include a forensics team, are processing the vehicle and the scene around it.
Webb said the vechicle was not burnt, but could not elaborate further on its condition.
"Right now they're proceeding pretty slowly," he said. "They want to be able to make sure they maintain continuity of all evidence that's there.
Webb said about a dozen officers were on the ground, combing the area around the vehicle for clues before they set about carefully examining the SUV itself.
Police service dogs and a civilian search team are also on hand if needed. The investigators wiill work as long as weather permits Friday and will pick up the search Saturday morning, Webb said.
Webb said police still want to talk to anyone who might have spotted the vehicle over the past few days so investigators can establish a timeline for the case.
As the search continues, police have released a photo and description of Vader, who stands 6-2, weighs 220 pounds and is Caucasian with short red hair.
His whereabouts are unknown and Hourihan declined to say why police want to speak with him or what link he has to the case.
"There shouldn't be any conclusions drawn other than this person — Vader — is a person of interest we would like to talk to."
He said Vader, of no fixed address, is wanted on unrelated charges, has a history of violence, has been known to possess firearms and is a drug user.
"Mr. Vader should be considered dangerous," he added. "Any sightings of him should be reported to police immediately and he should not be approached."
Hourihan said 20 investigators are working full time on the case, looking into more than 100 tips that have police checking leads from Victoria to Ontario.
The McCanns have been missing for almost two weeks and the investigation has seen the RCMP come under criticism for failing to conduct due diligence and follow obvious leads.
Hourihan admitted the investigation went off the rails after police went to the burning motorhome. They found the McCanns' registration papers in the camper and called the McCann home, but abandoned the chase when there was no answer.
Whether Mounties knocked on the couple's door remains a mystery. Webb said earlier this week that police did go to the door, but Hourihan said Friday that is still being determined.
Webb defended the force's actions earlier this week, saying that burning vehicles are found in the bush all the time and it's not unusual for people to be away from home during the busy summer vacation months.
But on Friday, Hourihan said due diligence was not served.
"When the motorhome was burnt initially we were a little slow at getting going, as information wasn't passed on and a couple of things weren't followed up on," he said.
"That is under review right now and will continue under review, and I can tell you that there is a member who has been placed on administrative duties as a result of that."
The case took another bizarre turn on Tuesday after the McCann's son, Bret, made a public plea on TV for the public to call in tips on the stolen SUV.
Within hours Diana Bjorklund and her father Evert went to the local RCMP detachment in Prince George B.C., 450 kilometres west of Edson, to report seeing the SUV in the community a few days earlier. But Diana Bjorklund told CBC Radio on Thursday that the civilian staffer at the counter didn't ask for her name and phone number and dismissed her information out of hand because the sighting was already days old.
Mounties were then forced to issue a public plea for Bjorklund to come back.Hourihan said that has happened and police are acting upon the information.
The Mounties came under sharp criticism this week from Bill Pitt, a former Mountie who has trained a thousand law enforcement agents in the United States.
In an interview, Pitt, who teaches criminology at Edmonton's Grant MacEwan University, said victims like the McCanns are paying for systemic breakdowns in RCMP rural policing due to staffing shortages, a slew of green recruits, and a culture of information hoarding rather than sharing.
Hourihan said despite the mistakes, it's critical the public not lose faith.
He was asked if he believes the Mounties are still the best team to do the job.
"Yes, I do," he replied.
"Public confidence is contingent upon police competence.
"And I want to assure you that in spite of the fact there were a couple of errors made in this particular case, we are doing everything we can with the best people we can to make sure follow up on everything we can."