Saskatchewan Mounties surrounded a house on the James Smith Cree Nation Tuesday after reported sightings of a suspected mass murderer, but left soon afterward with no sign of the man.
Emergency alerts blared yet again. A helicopter and drones flew overhead. A tactical armoured vehicle arrived on-site, driving past a checkpoint where reporters were kept. Shortly after, police vehicles left the scene and Myles Sanderson remained at large more than 48 hours after the stabbing attacks.
“We didn’t hesitate,” Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, commanding officer of the Saskatchewan RCMP, said of the search, which bypassed the usual police practice of verifying information.
“We felt the risk to individuals if he was in fact there outweighs the benefit of having that information (held) closely to be more reliable.”
Residents in a community already grieving the loss of so many were left on edge as another lead on the suspect seemed to run cold.
“People will have that sense of nervousness until Myles Sanderson is located and in custody, and understandably so,” Blackmore said.
“Many of these people … have seen things, and possibly themselves have been attacked. Things no individual should have to see or deal with.”
Sanderson, 32, is one of the accused in the stabbings over the weekend at several locations on the James Smith Cree Nation and nearby village of Weldon, in which 10 men and women were killed and 18 were injured.
Regina police Chief Evan Bray said late Tuesday afternoon that based on new information, his service no longer believes Sanderson may be in his community. Police had reported a possible sighting in the city on the weekend of a vehicle Sanderson and his brother had driven.
Blackmore is encouraging the public to report anything that looks out of place, as police are following up with all tips.
“As hours go by, and days go by here, I don’t want people to become complacent … because we haven’t seen any victims since … Sunday,” Blackmore said. “We certainly don’t want people to believe that there’s no danger out there.”
RCMP have said Sanderson’s brother, Damien Sanderson, who had also been a suspect in the killings, was found dead Monday in a grassy area not far from one of the crime scenes. Police have said they don’t believe he killed himself and are investigating whether Myles Sanderson was involved in his brother’s death.
More victims were identified Tuesday.
The Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association confirmed the death of Earl Burns in a Facebook message, saying he was a veteran with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
His sister confirmed his death in a statement to news website paNow in Prince Albert. Deborah McLean told the outlet her brother died protecting his family and that his wife is in intensive care.
RCMP have released the names and photos of the 10 people killed. The dead include nine men and women from the James Smith Cree Nation northeast of Saskatoon and one man from the nearby village of Weldon, and range in age from 23 to 78.
They are identified as:
- Thomas Burns, 23, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Carol Burns, 46, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Gregory Burns, 28, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Lydia Gloria Burns, 61, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Bonnie Burns, 48, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Earl Burns, 66, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Lana Head, 49, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Christian Head, 54, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Robert Sanderson, 49, of James Smith Cree Nation
- Wesley Petterson, 78, of Weldon
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said 10 of the injured victims remained in hospital Tuesday, including three in critical condition.
The Prairies-wide search has left other communities anxious.
Piapot First Nation, 45 kilometres northeast of Regina, urged residents to be vigilant.
“Do not let strangers inside your homes or answer the door for anyone you do not know. Please keep all windows and doors locked,” community leaders wrote in a safety notice posted online Tuesday.
Leaders of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations issued an appeal to find Myles Sanderson, begging those with knowledge of his whereabouts to come forward to help end the manhunt without any more loss of life.
A former Mountie said the vast open spaces of the Prairies could complicate any manhunt.
“This is a huge area, and there’s a whole lot of nothing,” said retired RCMP officer Sherry Benson-Podolchuk. “There’s a lot of places people can hide.”
Benson-Podolchuk noted that police are monitoring roads going into and out of adjacent provinces.
“Suspects aren’t going to go on the (main) roads. If they can take a side road or a gravel road or a dirt road somewhere, they will do that,” Benson-Podolchuk said.
Parole documents show Myles Sanderson has a nearly two-decade-long criminal record, which included convictions for assault, assault with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer and robbery. The parole board said he had propensity for violence when intoxicated.
“Your criminal history is very concerning, including the use of violence and weapons related to your index offences, and your history of domestic violence,” said the document obtained by The Canadian Press.
Sanderson received statutory release from prison in August 2021, but it was revoked about four months later because the board said he failed to communicate with his parole supervisor.
In the document, the board said it decided to reinstate his statutory release with a reprimand, and said Sanderson “will not present an undue risk to society.”
In May, a Crime Stoppers bulletin was issued for Sanderson, warning he was unlawfully at large.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters in Vancouver on Monday he’s already been engaged with the parole board and has been told there would be an investigation into its decision on Sanderson.
Damien Sanderson faced an assault charge from June, showed court documents obtained by The Canadian Press Tuesday.
The Mounties have not said what motivated the attacks. Police believe some victims were targeted, but others were chosen at random.
People in the region have rallied around the victims and the communities affected.
An online fundraising effort has begun for victims and their families in James Smith Cree Nation. It had raised more than $104,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
A community garden organization near Prince Albert posted on social media that it is sending produce to the First Nation for wakes and other gatherings in the days ahead.
“We will be cleaning carrots, cucumbers and potatoes to send for the wakes. If you can help pick, peel or cut we will need a few extra hands please,” read the post on Jessy’s Garden Facebook page.
In nearby Melfort, Sask., on Monday night, the Mustangs Junior A hockey team held a moment of silence for the victims ahead of their pre-season game against the Nipawin Hawks.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and First Nations leaders held a moment of silence Tuesday at the opening of a hockey complex on the Big River First Nation some 180 kilometres away from where the stabbings took place.
“Those of you that have friends and family in the James Smith community or Weldon, or are impacted in any way, please know that all of this province’s heart is with you and your family this weekend and the weeks and months ahead,” Moe said.
—Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press