At least 10 people are dead and 15 more injured after a stabbing rampage that began on the James Smith Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan early Sunday morning.
On Monday, two men remained subjects of a manhunt and dangerous persons alerts across the Prairies, suspects in what is already one of the deadliest acts of mass violence in Canada’s history.
“It is horrific what has occurred in our province today,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said at a news conference in Regina on Sunday afternoon.
Wanted are Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30.
No information has been released about the victims, but RCMP say investigators believe some were targeted, and others attacked at random. Other than physical descriptions, RCMP have not released any information about the suspects, or speculated on potential motivations for the attacks. The relationship between the two men is unclear.
“There are no words to adequately describe the pain and loss caused by this senseless violence,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on Twitter on Sunday. “All of Saskatchewan grieves with the victims and their families.”
The premier’s office later said flags at provincial government buildings will be lowered to half-mast one day for each person killed.
The James Smith Cree Nation is made up of three communities, including the Chakastaypasin Band and the Peter Chapman Band. Chiefs and councillors of the communities unanimously declared a state of emergency on Sunday night, “in response to the numerous murders and assaults on members of James Smith Cree Nation during the morning hours of Sept. 4, 2022.” A statement from the First Nation said two emergency operations centres had been set up to help provide support to residents.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the stabbings in a tweet. “The attacks in Saskatchewan today are horrific and heartbreaking. I’m thinking of those who have lost a loved one and of those who were injured,” he wrote. “We are closely monitoring the situation, and urge everyone to follow updates from local authorities. Thank you to all the brave first responders for their efforts on the ground.”
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said RCMP received the first call related to the rampage at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday, with a report of a stabbing on the James Smith Cree Nation, located about two hours northeast of Saskatoon.
In the minutes that followed, she said, several additional calls came in about stabbings at different locations in the community. The callers identified Damien Sanderson and Myles Sanderson as suspects.
Saskatchewan RCMP released a dangerous persons alert in the area at 7:12 a.m., informing the public in the immediate vicinity about the stabbings. Further alerts were sent later that morning within the province, and later in the day Saskatchewan RCMP sent requests to extend the alert to residents in Manitoba and Alberta.
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said the deceased and injured were found at 13 locations in the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby town of Weldon, Sask. She said there may be additional victims who took themselves to hospital, and she asked anyone who was injured but has not spoken to police to call RCMP.
Throughout the day Sunday, word of the continuing manhunt spread on social media, as did stories about horrific scenes of carnage, and posts about the identities of victims. The Globe is not releasing the names of victims until they are formally identified by RCMP, or have been confirmed by immediate family.
In the town of Weldon, resident Diane Shier said her neighbour, a man who lived with his grandson, was killed. Another Weldon resident, Robert Rush, described the victim as a gentle, widowed man in his 70s.
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Mr. Rush said.
Mr. Rush said the victim’s adult grandson was in the basement at the time of the attack and phoned police, staying downstairs until the assailants were gone.
The First Nations Horsemen’s Association said many of its members are from the James Smith Cree Nation and were impacted by the tragedy.
“On behalf of our entire racing community, our thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the James Smith Cree Nation and surrounding area,” read a statement from the group.
In May, Myles Sanderson was listed as “unlawfully at large” by Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers, a program that encourages the public to co-operate with police, Reuters reported. There were no further details about why he was wanted.
Police say a sighting of the suspects was reported in Regina around 11:45 a.m. CST on Sunday. It was a particularly busy day in the prairie city, with tens of thousands in town to attend the sold-out CFL Labour Day Classic between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the downtown stadium.
Speaking at the news conference with RCMP on Sunday, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said city police were operating as if the men were in Regina, and that significant resources had been dedicated to the situation, both to ensure the safety of the crowds at the football game, and to support the broader unfolding investigation.
In a Monday morning update, Mr. Bray said the suspects are still at large despite “ongoing, relentless efforts through the night” by police officers, and there will be new investigators and officers joining the manhunt today. Mr. Bray added that “we will not stop until these two have been arrested.”
The suspects had been travelling Sunday in a black Nissan Rogue with the Saskatchewan licence plate number 119 MPI, according to police, but Assistant Commissioner Blackmore cautioned that they could have changed vehicles and may no longer be in Regina.
“Their location and direction of travel is unknown, this why we need everyone in the province to stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity,” she said.
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said Saskatchewan RCMP are dedicating maximum resources to the investigation, and that the RCMP are “committed, and will remain committed, to use every resource we have to locate and arrest these individuals.”
Damien Sanderson is described as being five-foot-seven and weighing 155 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. Myles Sanderson is described as six-foot-one and weighing 240 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
People are being warned not to approach the men, but to immediately call 911 if they see them.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said its emergency response processes had been triggered by the incident, including a “code orange,” for a mass casualty event. The organization said additional staff members were called to deal with the influx of injured.
“Our medical teams are working hard to respond to patient needs as this incident unfolds,” read a statement from the SHA. “We can confirm that multiple people are being triaged and cared for at multiple sites.”
Although RCMP did not release details about a motive, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in the release that drugs were a possibility.
“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,” Cameron said. He didn’t elaborate on the statement.
STARS air ambulance service spokesman Mark Oddan said three people were airlifted to hospital by three separate helicopter crews. He said two victims were transported from the scenes of attacks, while the third was transported from a local hospital where he was initially treated.
Mr. Rush, in Weldon, said people believe the suspects have left the village. Later Sunday, he drove to Prince Albert to buy a cake for his wife’s birthday, and left his granddaughter at home.
“I gave her two guns and a bat,” he said.
In April 2020, 22 people were killed after a series of shootings in rural Nova Scotia. An inquiry into the shootings, and how they were handled by RCMP, is continuing.
With reports from The Canadian Press and Reuters
Timeline of events in Saskatchewan stabbings
On Sept. 4, two suspects allegedly went on a rampage across part of Saskatchewan. Police say 10 people died and 15 others were injured over the 13 locations where the attacks took place. Here’s a timeline of the police response – all times local:
5:40 a.m. – RCMP receives multiple calls from James Smith Cree Nation about stabbings at different locations.
7:12 a.m. – Saskatchewan RCMP issues dangerous persons alert, says police trying to locate two suspects. Area residents of James Smith Cree Nation and surrounding communities of Candle Lake, Prince Albert, Melfort, Humboldt and Rosthern told to seek immediate shelter, use caution.
7:57 a.m. – RCMP releases names and photos of suspects: Damien Sanderson and Myles Sanderson. Damien Sanderson is described as five-feet-seven inches, 155 pounds with black hair, brown eyes. Myles Sanderson was described as six-feet-one inch, 200 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.
8:20 a.m. – RCMP extends dangerous persons alert to province of Saskatchewan, saying the suspects are believed to be travelling in a vehicle.
9:45 a.m. – RCMP issues fourth dangerous persons alert saying there have been multiple victims in multiple locations, at least one at James Smith Cree Nation and another victim at Weldon. Some of the attacks appear to be random.
11:25 a.m. – RCMP sends request to Mounties in Manitoba and Alberta to extend dangerous persons alert to their provinces.
12:07 p.m. – RCMP issues fifth update saying witnesses report seeing suspect vehicle in Regina on Arcola Ave. Residents asked to shelter in place. The vehicle is described as a black Nissan Rogue with Saskatchewan license plate 119 MPI.
3:45 p.m. – RCMP announces 10 people have been killed and 15 others injured in the attacks, which they say took place across 13 locations.
With reports from The Canadian Press
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