Ten people were killed and 15 others wounded in multiple stabbings early on Sunday in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
One of the suspects in a mass stabbing spree was found dead by Canadian police on Monday, while the second suspect, his brother, is still on the run and may be injured.
Canadian authorities said Monday that one of the two men suspected of stabbing to death 10 people in an Indigenous community and a nearby town in Saskatchewan has been found dead, and the other is still being sought. Police had charged both suspects with murder and other counts as the massive manhunt following one of the nation’s deadliest mass killings entered its second day.
The men are also suspected of injuring 19 people in the series of knife attacks Sunday that led the James Smith Cree Nation to declare a state of emergency and shook residents of the nearby village of Weldon.
One of the suspects, Damien Sanderson, 31, was found dead Monday outside a house being examined on the James Smith Cree Nation, with “visible injuries” that police said did not appear self-inflicted. His exact cause of death will be determined by the Saskatchewan coroners office, commanding officer of the Saskatchewan RCMP Rhonda Blackmore told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
His brother Myles Sanderson, 30, remained the focus of an intense search. Police said there is a possibility he is injured. They did not confirm if Myles was involved in the death of Damien.
Blackmore warned that despite possibly being injured, Myles Sanderson is still considered armed and dangerous. He currently faces three counts of first degree murder. Police described him as being 6’1″ and around 200 pounds.
Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said Myles Sanderson’s last known sighting had been in Regina, the provincial capital, more than 200 miles away from the scene of the stabbings. Earlier Monday, police said a vehicle reportedly carrying the two suspects had been spotted in the Regina area. Police said they may be driving a black Nissan Rogue.
Damien’s death brings the total fatality count in the incident to 11, with 19 injured, and 13 crime scenes, Blackmore said.
Police said the motive in the attacks was not known. Blackmore said some of the stabbing victims appear to have been targeted by the suspects, but others appear to have been attacked at random.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attacks and asked anyone with information to contact authorities.
“Yesterday’s attacks in Saskatchewan are shocking and heartbreaking,” Trudeau said. “This kind of violence—or any kind of violence—has no place in our country. We’re still of course monitoring the situation closely and we urge everyone to follow all the updates from the authorities. The priority is keeping you and your loved ones safe. So please be careful, if you see anything, if you have any information, please call 911 to share that.”
Trudeau said that in a show of solidarity all flags in federal buildings in Saskatchewan have been lowered and the Peace Tower flag has also been lowered to half mast.
The attacks have left Saskatchewan residents on edge.
“No one in this town is ever going to sleep again. They’re going to be terrified to open their door,” said Weldon resident Ruby Works, who was close to one of the victims.
“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.
“It is horrific what has occurred in our province,” said Blackmore.
Although police have not confirmed a motive, the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations gave a statement suggesting the stabbings could be drug-related.
The elected leaders of the three communities that make up the James Smith Cree Nation, including the Chakastaypasin Band and the Peter Chapman Band, declared a local state of emergency and opened two emergency operations centers.
Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson — who apparently is not related to the suspects —said everyone has been affected by the tragic events.
“They were our relatives, friends,” Sanderson said of the victims. “It’s pretty horrific.”
“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 of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Last May, Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers issued a wanted list that included Myles Sanderson, writing that he was “unlawfully at large.”
The attack is among the deadliest mass killings in Canadian history. The deadliest gun rampage in the country’s 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. A man used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto in 2019. But mass killings are less common in Canada than in the United States.
Deadly mass stabbings are more rare 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.
A community in shock
Doreen Lees, an 89-year grandmother from Weldon, said she and her daughter thought they saw one of the suspects when a car came barreling down her street early Sunday as her daughter was having coffee on her deck. Lees said a man approached them and said he was hurt and needed help.
But Lees said the man took off and ran after 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.”
She said the man was by himself and “kind of a little wobbly.”
“I followed him a little ways to see if he was going to be OK. My daughter said, ‘Don’t follow him, get back here.'”
Weldon residents have identified one of the victims as Wes Petterson. Ruby Works said the 77-year-old widower was like an uncle to her.
“I collapsed and hit the ground. I’ve known him since I was just a little girl,″ she said, describing the moment she heard the news. She said he loved his cats, was proud of his homemade Saskatoon berry jam and frequently helped out his neighbors.
“He didn’t do anything. He didn’t deserve this. He was a good, kind hearted man,″ said Works.
Weldon resident Robert Rush also described the victim as a gentle, widowed man in his 70s.
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he said.
Rush said Petterson’s adult grandson was in the basement at the time and phoned police.
Another the 10 victims 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.”
At the Weldon Christian Tabernacle Church, the congregation began its regular Sunday service by saying a special prayer to the victims and their families.
At the James Smith Cree Nation, a convenience store that also serves as a gas station became a gathering place for community members who greeted each other with tears and hugs.
A sign on the door said: “Due to safety concerns with our community we will remain closed until further notice.”
The search for suspects was carried out as fans descended on Regina for a sold-out annual Labor Day game between the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Regina Police Service said in a news release that with the help of Mounties, it was working on several fronts to locate and arrest the suspects and had “deployed additional resources for public safety throughout the city, including the football game at Mosaic Stadium.″
Police began getting calls about stabbings at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday. The alert first issued by Melfort, Saskatchewan, RCMP about 7 a.m. was extended hours later to cover Manitoba and Alberta as the two suspects remained at large.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said multiple patients were being treated at several sites.
“A call for additional staff was issued to respond to the influx of casualties,” authority spokeswoman Anne Linemann said in an email.