One of two brothers accused in a stabbing massacre in Saskatchewan has been found dead, having suffered injuries the RCMP say do not appear to have been self-inflicted. The death of 31-year-old Damien Sanderson brings the toll of Sunday’s violence to 11 dead and another 18 victims injured.
The other suspect, Myles Sanderson, 30, remains on the run, the subject of an intensive manhunt by RCMP and police across the Prairies.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said at a news conference on Monday that the exact cause of Damien Sanderson’s death has not been determined. Whether Myles Sanderson killed his brother remains under investigation, she added.
The stabbing rampage is one the deadliest acts of mass violence in Canada’s history.
At RCMP headquarters in Regina, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said police have strong reason to believe that Myles Sanderson may also have sustained injuries. She noted that he could seek medical treatment.
“Even if he is injured, it does not mean he is not still dangerous,” she said.
At least nine of the 11 deceased are from the James Smith Cree Nation, and one is from the nearby town of Weldon. And at least 15 of the 18 who were injured are also from the First Nation. RCMP have said the attacks happened at 13 separate locations. It has not been confirmed whether Myles and Damien Sanderson are members of the James Smith Cree Nation.
At least four homes at the James Smith Cree Nation were cordoned off with yellow police tape on Monday, with RCMP guarding the scenes and working out of a command post set up at the local community centre. Residents at other houses peered out from behind curtains and window coverings, while police in marked and unmarked vehicles travelled around the area.
Multiple people declined to speak with The Globe and Mail, and members of the First Nation’s leadership asked media to leave, saying the community was in mourning. On social media, people from the community shared stories of both immense loss and profound heroism, and began identifying victims in the attacks. Some used the hashtag #JamesSmithStrong.
The James Smith Cree Nation is an isolated community about two hours northeast of Saskatoon. It includes the Chakastaypasin Band and the Peter Chapman Band. Chiefs and councillors unanimously declared a state of emergency on Sunday night.
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said Damien Sanderson’s body had been found in a heavily grassed area of the James Smith Cree Nation at about 11:30 a.m. on Monday, near a house that was being examined by police as part of the investigation. His identity was confirmed less than two hours later.
While public alerts remain in effect in Manitoba and Alberta, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said investigators currently believe that Myles Sanderson is in Regina, where he was seen on Sunday travelling in a black Nissan Rogue with Saskatchewan license plate 119 MPI.
RCMP have not released any information on what the motive for the violence may have been, but they have said some of the victims are believed to have been targeted, and others appear to have been attacked at random.
MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:
TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS
MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:
TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS
MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said the victims are men and women of a variety of ages. She said there were no children or infants attacked, and that the youngest victim was born in 1999.
RCMP have not released any information about the condition of the victims or their injuries.
Myles Sanderson is currently facing multiple charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and break and enter as a result of Sunday’s rampage, and RCMP say more charges are expected. He has been wanted by police in Saskatchewan since May for breaching conditions related to a previous prison sentence he had been serving. Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said his criminal history includes both violence and property offences.
Chief Bray said there were two people in the black Nissan when it was seen on Sunday, but that police don’t know who the second person was. He also reiterated a previous plea to anyone with information about Mr. Sanderson’s whereabouts.
“There are people that possess knowledge about Myles, where he is, about information that occurred over the last 24 to 48 hours, that is going to be very, very important to this investigation,” the police chief said. “So once again, we have to reiterate to the community: We need to hear from you. Please reach out to the police or reach out to an organization that can get information to the police and provide us with what ultimately could be the missing piece to help tie this up and take Myles safely into custody.”
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said the RCMP have made the investigation their highest priority.
In a statement released on Monday evening, Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations pleaded with people to contact authorities with any information that could aid in the investigation.
“Every time a new alert is broadcast across the provincial emergency alert system, the families and communities are holding their breaths for fear of new fatalities or injuries…,” he was quoted as saying. “We must do everything we can to help end this tragedy without any more loss of life.”
Speaking in Ottawa on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had spoken to leadership of the James Smith Cree Nation and to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe about federal resources that will be made available in the aftermath of the violence. He said in past years “tragedies like these have become all too commonplace.”
“My thoughts, and the thoughts of all Canadians, are with those who have lost loved ones and with those who are injured,” he said. “This kind of violence, or any kind of violence, has no place in our country.”
In the town of Weldon on Monday, residents were dealing with both the proximity of the violence, and with the loss of one of the victims of the attacks, lifelong resident Wes Petterson.
Police evidence markers dotted the porch of the house where Mr. Petterson lived with his grandson, and RCMP and investigators in white forensic suits worked at the scene. A memorial of flowers had begun to accumulate near the house.
“The community is devastated,” said Ruby Works. She added that she had known the victim since she was a child. “This is a shocregto all of us.”
Long-time residents Diane and Leroy Shier said they were pulling potatoes in their garden on Sunday when they began getting calls from people in the community telling them to get inside, so they went in and locked their doors. Mr. Shier said the suspect knocked on a neighbour’s door, but that person didn’t open it.
“You never think it is going to be in your community,” Mr. Shier said.
Picking up some groceries in Melfort on Monday, Lillian Nippi, 66, said she has been crying on and off, and is still trying to process what happened. Ms. Nippi, a resident of the nearby Yellow Quill First Nation, said the ripple effects will be felt throughout the area.
“It’s very hard to understand,” she said. “I think about mass killings you hear about in other countries and this one is so close to home.”
Ms. Nippi said she is praying for the families of those killed and injured, and she expressed the fear many in the province were feeling, with the suspect in the killings not yet apprehended. She said she would be heading home as soon as she finished buying groceries, and had been urging her loved ones to stay home as well.
“I worry,” she said. “It’s scary.”
There was a heavy police presence in Regina on Monday evening, with marked and unmarked police vehicles cruising the downtown and central areas of the city.
North Central resident Justice Smith said the fear is palpable.
“Everyone in my family is too scared to leave home,” she said. “The kids aren’t allowed to go outside. "
The city hit 34 degrees Monday afternoon, but crowds were noticeably thin at pools in the core. Downtown playgrounds, normally bustling, remained empty all day.
Ms. Smith said it was the first time she had gone outside since the first alert sounded on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a dangerous person alert issued for Witchekan Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan was cancelled Tuesday after police arrested one of two suspects wanted in a shooting on the First Nation.
Saskatchewan RCMP says Kelly Witchekan was arrested in Saskatoon late Monday evening. Police initially said two men were being sought in that case. The incident is not believed to be connected to the mass stabbing investigation.
The stabbings at the James Smith Cree Nation happened exactly a year after a multiple shooting in the community left a 37-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman dead, and another man seriously injured. In that case, an alert was issued for the suspect, who was arrested after a daylong search and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
At that time, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said the shootings and a rash of violence were connected to ongoing issues related to alcohol and drug abuse, mental health, “and the lack of proactive care and attention.”
“With proper action, they could have been prevented,” the federation said then.
Myles Sanderson is described as being 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Timeline of events in Saskatchewan stabbings
Here’s a timeline of the police response – all times local:
Sunday, Sept. 4:
5:40 a.m. - RCMP receives multiple calls from James Smith Cree Nation about stabbings at different locations.
7:12 a.m. - RCMP issues dangerous persons alert, says police trying to locate two suspects. Area residents of James Smith Cree Nation and surrounding communities of Candle Lake, Prince Albert, Melfort, Humboldt and Rosthern told to seek immediate shelter, use caution.
7:57 a.m. - RCMP releases names and photos of suspects: Damien Sanderson and Myles Sanderson. Damien Sanderson is described as five-feet-seven inches, 155 pounds with black hair, brown eyes. Myles Sanderson is described as six-feet-one inch, 200 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.
8:20 a.m. - RCMP extends dangerous persons alert across the province of Saskatchewan, saying the suspects are believed to be travelling in a vehicle.
9:45 a.m. - RCMP issues fourth dangerous persons alert saying there have been multiple victims in multiple locations, at least one at James Smith Cree Nation and another in the nearby village of Weldon. Some of the attacks appear to be random.
11:25 a.m. - RCMP sends request to Mounties in Manitoba and Alberta to extend dangerous persons alert to their provinces.
12:07 p.m. - RCMP issues fifth update saying witnesses report seeing suspect vehicle in Regina on Arcola Ave. Residents asked to shelter in place. The vehicle is described as a black Nissan Rogue with Saskatchewan license plate 119 MPI.
3:45 p.m. - RCMP announces 10 people have been killed and 15 others injured in the attacks, which they say took place across 13 locations.
Monday, Sept. 5:
7:36 a.m. - Regina Police Chief Evan Bray says in a video posted to Twitter that the two suspects remain at large, despite “ongoing, relentless” efforts of officers overnight.
11:39 a.m. - Saskatchewan RCMP say the two fugitives have been charged with first-degree murder, as well as attempted murder and break and enter. Mounties also say the number of injured rose to 18 from 15.
12:43 p.m. - Saskatchewan RCMP issue a provincewide alert for several armed suspects on the Witchekan Lake First Nation northwest of Saskatoon after reports of a shooting. They say it is not believed to be connected to the stabbings on the James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon.
1:17 p.m. - RCMP confirm a deceased male found in a grassy area on the James Smith Cree Nation is one of the suspects, Damien Sanderson. Police later say his wounds were not self-inflicted and his brother, Myles Sanderson, is still at large, may be in Regina and could be injured.
Tuesday, Sept. 6
5 a.m. - Police announce the dangerous person alert issued for Witchekan Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan is cancelled after they arrested Kelly Witchekan late Monday evening.
With reports from The Canadian Press
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.