Fears High as Canadian Police Search for Stabbing Suspect
JAMES SMITH CREE FIRST NATION, Saskatchewan — Fears ran high Tuesday on an Indigenous reserve in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan after police warned that the suspect in a deadly stabbing rampage over the weekend might be nearby and officers surrounded a house with guns drawn.
Later, police sent an alert stating that the alarm was false and concluded the suspect wasn’t in the area. However, people were still nervous as his location was unknown. A provincial alert was also in place.
The James Smith Cree First Nation reservation had previously been told that people should stay in the reserve. A reporter for the Associated Press saw many people screaming and running as roads were closed by police.
The fugitive’s brother and fellow suspect, Damien Sanderson was found dead Monday near the stabbing sites. The police are looking into whether Myles Sanderson murdered his brother. They are charged with killing 10 and injuring 18.
The leaders of James Smith Cree Nation where the majority of the stabbings occurred, blamed the deaths on the drug and alcohol abuse that plagues the community. They said it was an inherited legacy from the colonization.
James Smith Cree Nation resident Darryl Burns said that his brother Ivor Wayne Burns also claimed their sister Gloria Lydia Burns was a first responseer who died while responding to an emergency call. Burns stated that his sister of 62 years was part of the crisis response team.
“She went on a call to a house and she got caught up in the violence,” he said. “She was there to help. She was a hero.”
He blamed drugs, and pointed out colonization as the reason for rampant alcohol and drug use in reserves.
This image is taken from video. Canadian law enforcement officers surround a house on the James Smith Cree First Nation reservation, Saskatchewan, Canada Tuesday, September 6, 2022 as they hunt for a suspect involved in several stabbings.
AP Photo/Robert Bumsted
“We had a murder suicide here three years ago. My granddaughter and her boyfriend. We had a double murder last year. Now this year we have 10 more that have passed away and all because of drugs and alcohol,” Darryl Burns said.
Ivor Wayne Burns also blamed drugs for his sister’s death and said the suspect brothers should not be hated.
“We have to forgive them boys,” he said. “When you are doing hard drugs, when you are doing coke, and when you are doing heroin and crystal meth and those things, you are incapable of feeling. You stab somebody and you think it’s funny. You stab them again and you laugh.”
Blackmore stated that police are still trying to determine the motive. However, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations chief supports the suggestion that the stabbings may have been drug-related.
“This is the destruction we face when harmful illegal drugs invade our communities, and we demand all authorities to take direction from the chiefs and councils and their membership to create safer and healthier communities for our people,” said Chief Bobby Cameron.
Blackmore stated that Myles Sanderson’s criminal history dates back many years, and also includes violence.
His release from prison was granted in August 2021. However, his release was then suspended in November due to his lying about the ex-spouse of his children. In February, the board cancelled the suspension and added conditions for monitoring and limiting contact with his ex-spouse and their children.
Public Safety Minister Mendicino said he’s been told by the parole board there will be an investigation into its assessment of Myles Sanderson and his subsequent release.
“I want to know the reasons behind the decision and I want to know if any mistakes were made during the process,” Mendicino said. “It has to be an independent review.”
”I’m extremely concerned with what occurred here,” he said.
This stabbing attack is one of the most horrific mass murders in Canada. In Canada such crimes are much less prevalent than in the United States. In 2020, 22 were killed when a gunman disguised himself as a police officer opened fire on homes in Nova Scotia. A man killed 10 pedestrians in Toronto using a van.
Ruby Works poses for a picture before bringing flowers into the home of a victim. This victim has been identified locally as Wes Petterson from Weldon in Saskatchewan on Monday September 5, 2022.
Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press via AP
While mass shootings are more rare than deadly mass stabbings, these incidents have been reported around the world. In 2014, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in China’s southwestern city of Kunming. A mass stabbing attack on a Sagamihara facility for mentally handicapped people in Japan left 19 dead. Eight people were killed by three attackers in an attack on the London Bridge a year later.
The first police call regarding a stabbing was received by Saskatchewan Police at 5:40 am on Sunday. Within minutes, several other calls were made. Blackmore reported that there were 13 locations where dead or seriously injured people found on the small, sparsely populated reservation and the town. James Smith Cree Nation can be found approximately 30km (20 miles) north of Weldon.
Residents of Weldon have named one of the deceased as Wes Petterson. He was a widower and used to make his morning coffee at the senior center. William Works (47), and Sharon Works (64) recall that he loved to garden, pick berries, canning and make jam and cakes.
“He would give you the shirt off his back if he could,” William Works said, describing his neighbor as a “gentle old fellow” and “community first.”
Sharon Works was baffled: “I don’t understand why they would target someone like him anyway, because he was just a poor, helpless little man, 100 pounds soaking wet. And he could hardly breathe because he had asthma and emphysema and everybody cared about him because that’s the way he was. He was concerned about everyone else. And they cared about him.”
Evan Bray, the police chief of provincial capital city of Regina, has been saying as recently as Monday that police thought Sanderson was in Regina, but said Tuesday they’ve received information that is leading them to believe that he may no longer be in the city.
“Although we don’t know his whereabouts we are still looking not only in the city of Regina but expanded into the province as well,” Bray said.
—Gillies reporting from Toronto
Here are more must-read stories from TIME