Prime Minister Trudeau mourns the eleven deceased stabbing victims of Myles Anderson
Prime Minister Trudeau mourns the eleven deceased stabbing victims of Myles AndersonWS file photo

Inquest probes details of James Smith Cree Nation stabbing spree

A coroner’s inquest into the mass stabbing at the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan is bringing new revelations and unearthing painful memories for those who lost loved ones, the Canadian Press reported.

Myles Sanderson was unlawfully at large on September 4 2022 when he killed 11 people and wounded 17 on the reservation and in the nearby town of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon. He died a few days later in police custody.

Staff Sgt. Ryan How with the RCMP’s Saskatchewan Enforcement Response Team told the inquest an arrest warrant had been issued for Sanderson the previous May.

Sanderson was convicted of 59 offences after becoming an adult, some for assault and 35 for failing to appear in court. He received statutory release in August 2021 after his first federal prison sentence. Four months later, it was discovered he had been lying about his living arrangements. His release was suspended, but reinstated by the parole board in February 2022 with a reprimand. That May, he was deemed unlawfully at large.

How said the response team’s mandate is to go after the greatest threats to public safety, but that many people have long criminal records. On the day of the killings, 52 people were unlawfully at large in Saskatchewan and there were 5,468 people on outstanding warrants. 

The inquest is in its second week in Melfort, SK, and aims to establish what led to the killings and when and where each person was killed. The jury of six will make recommendations following the inquiry. A second inquest regarding Sanderson’s own death will take place next month.

Sanderson’s common-law partner Vanessa Burns said Sanderson had been abusive throughout their 14-year relationship. She bore him five children, but she also suffered abuses during her pregnancies. Prior to the killings, she went to the reserve to sell cocaine with Sanderson, but she drove back to Saskatoon after he attacked her.

The RCMP said Sanderson and his brother Damien Sanderson had caused chaos in the days before the killing spree, assaulting people and selling drugs. Myles Sanderson fatally stabbed his brother, then went door-to-door on the reserve stabbing and killing people.

An RCMP criminal profiler said some of the victims were targetted because Sanderson suspected them of gang involvement, while others got in the way.

Sherri Jule, director of emergency medical services for northern Saskatchewan, told the inquest that one ambulance went home to treat a victim, but other medical personnel went to the band office.

“There were many patients, particularly at the beginning, (and) there weren’t many paramedics on scene,” she said.

Jule said a call came in at 5:44 a.m. for paramedics to go to the reserve. An ambulance from Melfort was dispatched 17 seconds later and arrived at the reserve at 6:23 a.m. Three people, two of whom were seriously injured, arrived at the Melfort hospital by 8:17 a.m.

Jule testified that all three STARS air ambulances in the province responded, and ambulances left from Melfort, Tisdale and Prince Albert. Sixteen patients were treated and all survived.

Insp. Alex Heron with Provincial Protective Services said 53 members of the branch were called to the scene over four days, including highway patrol and conservation officers.

“We’ve had nothing to this scale before,” Heron said.

Criminal investigative psychologist Matt Logan told the inquest the 33-year-old Sanderson scored 33 out of 40 on a scale to measure psychopathy. 

“You’ve got somebody that’s really not looking out for anybody but himself,” Logan said.

Logan said the killer showed signs he was lacking in remorse, had a reckless disregard for himself and others and would explode in unpredictable and violent outbursts. Logan thought Sanderson likely had anti-social personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, may have had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and was a high risk to reoffend violently.

Logan said Sanderson and his brother were warning people about death and being on a mission. The killer hadn’t slept in days and expressed rage towards the Terror Squad gang.

The psychologist said the killer bounced around different homes in his childhood and suffered both physical and emotional abuse. He started abusing alcohol at age 13 and later used cocaine and methamphetamine. Logan said the sense of being unwanted and abandoned can trigger violence in adulthood. Sanderson dropped out of high school and never kept a job for very long.

Damien Sanderson’s wife Skye called 911 the day before the stabbings because her husband had taken her vehicle without permission. He had outstanding warrants on domestic violence charges. The officers found the vehicle but didn’t identify Sanderson because he gave a false name and didn’t look like the last photo they had of him, taken in 2014.

Skye received a series of texts from her husband that said, "down to die me and my brother ... so wish me luck ... I'm not scared to die."

Just before the stabbings, he expressed his love and said it would be his last message, adding, "we going out."

Darren Simons, now a retired staff sergeant, was detachment commander in Melfort at the time of the stabbing. He left his home to drive to the reserve when a report of two stabbings came in.

“I saw numerous wounded individuals lined up, stacked up against the band office,” Simons told the inquest. “It just didn’t seem real.”

Simons later found Earl Burns Sr., the killer’s father-in-law, dead inside a school bus in the ditch, which was still running. Simons testified Burns tried to chase Sanderson in his vehicle after being stabbed, but succumbed to his injuries.

Mandy Maier, who works in communications with the Saskatchewan RCMP, told the inquest their emergency alert had the wrong image of the killer in the early hours of the Mounties’ response.

“(It was) absolute organized chaos,” Maier said.

A dangerous person alert was issued at 7:12 am with pictures of Myles and Damien Sanderson, but depicted the wrong Myles Sanderson. The picture was removed at 9 a.m. and the correct photo was put on a 10 a.m. alert.

Staff Sgt. Robin Zentner told the inquest, "This investigation was the largest homicide investigation in Saskatchewan RCMP's history," and involved 548 RCMP employees, members of various municipal police services and other provincial and federal law enforcement agencies.

The CBC reported Zenter as saying there were 42 separate crime scenes, 1,322 investigation tasks and 257 witness interviews. Forensic specialists processed and examined more than 1,000 items.

Family members of the deceased told the Canadian Press they were troubled by the details.

“The heartbreaking stories that our loved ones went through, the survivors, the injured and all the trauma that all the witnesses witnessed,” said Stewart Head. “That’s pretty horrifying.”

Chief Calvin Sanderson told the Canadian Press the whole community was suffering again.

“It’s been pretty emotional,” he said.

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