The Canadian flag flew at half mast at a police station in Melfort, Saskatchewan on Sept. 5, as residents reel from a stabbing spree that killed ten and injured another 18.
Of the two suspects believed to be responsible for the rampage that has devastated the James Smith Cree Nation indigenous community, one remains at large while the second, Damien Sanderson, 31, was found dead by wounds that authorities do not believe to be self-inflicted.
Police continue the manhunt for Myles Sanderson, 30, after he allegedly stabbed people in 13 different locations across the remote community and its surrounding province on Sept. 5.
Authorities believe the remaining fugitive may be injured and could seek medical attention. The relationship between the two suspects remains unclear as many members of the James Smith Cree Nation community bear the name Sanderson, however it is believed by many that the suspects were brothers.
With the death of one suspect and a suspected injury to the other, the casualty count now stands at 11 dead and 19 injured, said Rhonda Blackmore, commanding officer of the Saskatchewan Royal Canadian Mounted Police, at a news conference.
“We can confirm he [Damien Sanderson] has visible injuries. These injuries are not believed to be self-inflicted at this point,” Blackmore said without specifying what caused the injuries.
Asked if Myles Sanderson was suspected of also killing his assumed brother, Blackmore said, “It is an investigative avenue that we are following up on but we can’t say that definitively.”
She also warned that police still considered Myles Sanderson a danger to the public, even if he were injured.
“Myles has a lengthy criminal record involving both persons and property crimes. … We consider him armed and dangerous. Do not approach him,” Blackmore said.
Police in the Saskatchewan city of Saskatoon had been searching for Myles Sanderson since May, when he stopped meeting his parole officer after serving a sentence for assault, robbery, mischief and uttering threats, CBC News reported.
Details about the victims emerge
The attacks were among the deadliest in Canada’s modern history. Police said some of the victims appeared to have been targeted, while others were apparently random.
The victims included a mother of two, a 77-year-old widower and a first responder.
Authorities are trying to determine a motive for the attacks that shocked Canada where mass violence is rare.
Ivor Wayne Burns of James Smith Cree Nation said three of the victims – his sister Gloria Lydia Burns, a woman and a 14-year-old boy – died at a single location.
However, police told a press conference on Monday that the youngest victim was born in 1999.
Gloria Burns, a member of the community’s crisis response team, was killed when she attended an emergency call.
Drugs and alcohol may have been a contributing factor
A statement by indigenous leaders indicated the attacks may have been drug related.
“This tragedy that happened here on our land, it’s all because of drugs and alcohol,” said Burns, adding that the involvement of drugs in the killings was discussed at a community meeting on Monday.
“The drug problem we have here is rampant. It’s gone out of control,” Burns said.
His comments echoed those on Sunday of Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, who connected the killings with drugs.
Although police have not identified drugs or alcohol as a factor, Burns said the men responsible for the killings are band members and were high at the time of the crimes. Band is a term used to refer to certain First Nations communities in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attacks “shocking and heartbreaking” and said he had spoken with the leadership of the James Smith Cree Nation and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to pledge his government’s support.
“The federal government will be there with the resources necessary right now in this time of crisis but also we’ll continue to work as partners in the weeks, months and years to come through grieving and healing,” Trudeau said at the Ottawa airport, before flying to Vancouver for a meeting of Liberal ministers.
James Smith Cree Nation is an indigenous community with a population of about 3,400 people largely engaged in farming, hunting and fishing. Weldon is a village of some 200 people.
Police bulletins urged people to take precautions including sheltering in place, while warning against picking up hitchhikers or approaching suspicious people.
In an unrelated incident that has further rattled the province, police in Saskatchewan said on Monday they were investigating reports of a shooting on Witchekan Lake First Nation and warned the public that several armed suspects were on the loose.
Reuters contributed to this report (Reporting by David Stobbe in James Smith Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Rami Ayyub and Daniel Trotta contributed to writing this report)