WELDON, SASK.—One brother is dead and another is on the run as a small patch of rural Saskatchewan continues to wrestle with the aftershocks of a stabbing rampage that killed 10 others, in one of the deadliest massacres in Canadian history.
Just hours earlier, RCMP had laid charges against Damien Sanderson, 31, and his brother Myles Sanderson, 30, and issued warrants for their arrest in connection with the stabbings, which were spread across 13 crime scenes at James Smith Cree Nation and nearby Weldon, about two hours northeast of Saskatoon.
It would turn out that Damien Sanderson was already dead.
RCMP announced late Monday afternoon that his body had been found outdoors in a grassy area at James Smith Cree Nation that morning. He had “visible injuries” that are not believed to have been self-inflicted, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore told media.
Myles Sanderson, whose violent history had made him very familiar to police, remained at large Monday night. He has a history of both personal and property crime, and now faces three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of breaking and entering at a residence. Police had said, before announcing the death of his brother, that more charges were possible.
Myles, too, may have been injured, RCMP said, and while they would not say why they believed this or what those injuries were, they warned that he might seek medical care.
Blackmore also could not confirm whether Myles Sanderson was involved in his brother’s death.
Police describe Myles as six foot one and 240 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. They said he may be driving a black Nissan Rogue with licence plate 119 MPI, although police have said it is possible that he switched vehicles.
Damien Sanderson had earlier been charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of breaking and entering at a residence.
The RCMP said Monday that 18 others were injured in the rampage. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said 17 victims were sent to various hospitals. Four were in critical condition Monday afternoon, nine were in stable condition and four had been released.
As the light faded on the second day of the manhunt, the small farming town of Weldon was quiet apart from the roving TV crews reporting for as far away as Australia and Japan.
Most of the roughly 200 residents had spent the day inside at the urging of law enforcement, though a handful watched from their porches as forensic workers in hazmat suits and journalists passed by. The local nursing home posted a sign in its window, notifying passersby of a lockdown.
The incident drew expressions of sympathy and condemnation from political leaders. Speaking from an airport runway on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “shocking and heartbreaking,” and said the flags at all federal buildings had been lowered and that the federal government would support Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tweeted his condolences to the family and friends of the victims, with his office later saying flags at provincial government buildings would be lowered to half-mast one day for each person killed.
According to a post from Crime Stoppers, Myles Sanderson was being actively hunted by law enforcement since as early as May for being “unlawfully at large,” though it’s not clear what he was wanted for.
There’s also the question of who he might be travelling with. On Sunday, police had said the duo were likely in Regina. The city’s police chief, Evan Bray, said that the information they’d received — that there were two people in the city in a black Nissan Rogue that matched the one being sought — was still “believed to be true.”
“We are still operating under the impression that Myles is in the city of Regina,” he added. “It’s unknown at this time who the other person in the vehicle was and if that was indeed Myles that was in there.”
A dangerous person alert remained in place for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and the public was urged to take precautions.
Bray tweeted a video on Monday night with a message to assuage any fears parents might have of their children returning to school Tuesday with the suspect still on the run.
“There’s a couple of things we have to remember. There were very violent incidents that happened yesterday in northern Saskatchewan. However since then, no more violence has occurred,” said Bray. “Also, no youth or children were targeted in those violent attacks that happened yesterday.”
He concluded by asking the community to be “very aware” and to report anything unusual.
There’s been no official word on the identities of the victims, though the RCMP confirmed that the youngest of them was born in 1999. Weldon residents have identified one of the deceased as 77-year-old Wes Petterson.
Ruby Works said she was devastated when she heard about his death. She often had coffee in the morning at the café where Petterson worked, she said.
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“He was a kind-hearted man. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
Earlier, Doreen Lees, an 89-year-old Weldon resident, said she and her daughter thought they had seen one of the suspects when a car came barrelling down her street early Sunday.
Lees said a man approached them and said he was hurt and needed help, but he took off when her daughter said she would call for help.
“He wouldn’t show his face. He had a big jacket over his face. We asked his name and he kind of mumbled his name twice and we still couldn’t get it,” she said. “He said his face was injured so bad he couldn’t show it.”
Lees said she was concerned and started to follow him, but her daughter told her to come back to the house.
Twenty minutes down the gravel road in James Smith Cree Nation, the elected leaders of the three communities, including the Chakastaypasin Band and the Peter Chapman Band, have declared a local state of emergency and asked media to stay away while the community grieves.
A woman parked in front of the First Nation’s entrance was urging reporters not to photograph her house.
Several media reports identified one of the dead as Lana Head, a 49-year-old mother of two daughters who worked as a security guard at a casino in nearby Prince Albert.
Media reports also identified Gloria Burns as a victim who died. The family said Burns was a first responder on the reserve who went to a crisis call.
Eleanore Sunchild, a prominent Saskatchewan lawyer whose daughters have connections to the reserve, said she’s been talking with community members who are shocked, horrified and deep in grief. She said there is a feeling of helplessness.
“I feel an immense grief for the community,” Sunchild said.
What led to the rampage remains unknown, though it is a question that investigators may be unravelling for some time.
In a statement, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 groups across Saskatchewan, expressed its sympathies to the communities and families affected. It also seemed to allude to what it thought might have been a contributing factor in the violence.
“This is the destruction we face when harmful illegal drugs invade our communities,” the statement said. “We demand all authorities to take direction from the Chiefs and Councils and their membership to create safer and healthier communities for our people.”
With the manhunt about to stretch into a third day, law enforcement officials urged Saskatchewan residents to stay vigilant as they addressed both the search and the multiple crime scenes.
In a video posted to Twitter Monday morning, Bray asked the public to come forward with any information.
“There’s a lot of grief. There’s a lot of anxiety in our province and in our communities this morning and all day yesterday,” Bray said.
In at least one other corner of the province, fires will burn in support of James Smith Cree Nation: A sacred fire was organized in English River First Nation in northern Saskatchewan on Monday evening. About 20 people had gathered, including a member of the RCMP, and after a slight rain delay, the sun shone as the event began.
The sacred fire was meant as a show of solidarity featuring an opening ceremony, drumming, rattling and prayers for those affected by the weekend’s tragedy, said one of its organizers.
“We’re all related in the end,” said band Coun. Katrina Maurice, noting community members were coming with candles to offer their support and prayers.
“We come together in times of crisis and happiness.”
With files from Maria Iqbal and The Canadian Press
Alex Boyd is a Calgary-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_n_boyd
Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @OmarMosleh
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