WELDON, Saskatchewan (AP) — Canadian police hunted for the remaining suspect in the stabbing deaths of 10 people in an Indigenous community and nearby town in the province of Saskatchewan after finding the body of his brother amid a massive manhunt for the pair.
Damien Sanderson, 31, was found dead Monday near the stabbing sites and authorities believe his brother and fellow suspect, Myles Sanderson, 30, is injured, on the run and likely in the provincial capital of Regina, said police chief Evan Bray. The series of stabbings also wounded 18 people.
RCMP Commanding Officer Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said authorities are not sure of the cause of death yet but the injuries were not self-inflicted.
Damien Sanderson’s “body was located outdoors in a heavily grassed area in proximity to a house that was being examined. We can confirm he has visible injuries,” said Blackmore. Asked if Myles Sanderson was responsible for his brother’s death, Blackmore said police are investigating that possibility, but “we can’t say that definitively at this point in time.”
Leaders of the James Smith Cree Nation, where most of the stabbing attacks took place, blamed the killings on the drug and alcohol abuse plaguing the community, which they said was a legacy of the colonization of Indigenous people.
James Smith Cree Nation resident Darryl Burns and his brother, Ivor Wayne Burns, said their sister, Gloria Lydia Burns, was a first responder who was killed while trying to respond to a call. Burns said his 62-year-old sister was on a 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 to colonization for the rampant drug and alcohol use on reserves.
“We had a murder suicide here three years ago. My granddaughter and her boyfriend. Last year we had a double homicide. 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 said police were still determining the motive, but the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations echoes suggestions the stabbings could be 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 said the criminal record of Myles Sanderson dates back years and includes violence. . Last May, Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers issued a wanted list that included him writing that he was “unlawfully at large.”
While authorities believe Myles Sanderson is in Regina, about 335 kilometers (210 miles) south of where the stabbings happened, they have issued alerts in Canada’s three vast prairie provinces — which also include Manitoba and Alberta — and contacted US border officials. The manhunt entered its third day Tuesday.
Before Damien’s body was found, arrest warrants were issued for the suspects and both men faced at least one count each of murder and attempted murder.
The stabbing attack was among the deadliest mass killings in Canada, where such crimes are less common than in the United States. The deadliest gun rampage in Canadian history happened in 2020, when a man disguised as a police officer shot people in their homes and set fires across the province of Nova Scotia, killing 22 people. In 2019, a man used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto.
Deadly mass stabbings are rarer than mass shootings, but have happened around the world. In 2014, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in China’s southwestern city of Kunming. In 2016, a mass stabbing at a facility for the mentally disabled in Sagamihara, Japan, left 19 people dead. A year later, three men killed eight people in a vehicle and stabbing attack at London Bridge.
Police in Saskatchewan got their first call about a stabbing at 5:40 am on Sunday, and within minutes heard about several more. In all, dead or wounded people were found at 13 different locations on the sparsely populated reserve and in the town, Blackmore said. James Smith Cree Nation is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Weldon.
Among the 10 killed was Lana Head, who is the former partner of Michael Brett Burns and the mother of their two daughters.
“It’s sick how jail time, drugs and alcohol can destroy many lives,” Burns told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. “I’m hurt for all this loss.”
Weldon residents have identified one of the dead as Wes Petterson, a retired widower who made coffee every morning at the senior center. He loved gardening, picking berries, canning, and making jam and cakes, recalled William Works, 47, and his mother, Sharon Works, 64.
“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 cared about everybody else. And they cared about him.”
Gillies reported from Toronto.