A four-day manhunt for Myles Sanderson, a suspect in one of Canada’s deadliest mass killings, ended with his death after a high-speed chase on a Prairie highway Wednesday afternoon, about 130 kilometres away from the scene of the attacks.
RCMP said Mr. Sanderson was arrested near Rosthern, Sask., around 3:30 p.m. Police had been searching for him since Sunday morning.
Mr. Sanderson went into medical distress shortly after being arrested, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said in a news conference Wednesday evening. Police called emergency medical services to attend and he was transported by ground ambulance to a hospital in Saskatoon, where he was pronounced dead, she said.
Officers performed “life-saving” measures before EMS arrived, she said.
“Our province is breathing a collective sigh of relief as Myles Sanderson is no longer at large. I can confirm that he is no longer a threat, and there is no risk to the public related to this investigation,” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said.
The stabbing rampage left 10 victims dead and 18 others injured. Mr. Sanderson’s brother, Damien Sanderson, was also wanted in connection with the attacks, but was found dead on Monday. He and all but one of the deceased victims were found on the James Smith Cree Nation, a small community located about 300 kilometres north of Regina. Both brothers were members of the First Nation, according to RCMP and court documents. The remaining deceased victim was found in the nearby town of Weldon.
Earlier this week, RCMP charged Myles Sanderson with three counts of first-degree murder. He is suspected of having been involved in the other deaths, including that of his brother.
Authorities received a 911 call at 2:07 p.m. Wednesday, with a report of break and enter near Wakaw. The caller believed the perpetrator was Mr. Sanderson, standing outside a residence and armed with a knife. Mr. Sanderson fled in a stolen white Chevrolet Avalanche, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said. The homeowner was not physically injured and RCMP then put out an emergency alert, which resulted in more than 20 calls with potential sightings of the Avalanche.
A RCMP officer from Rosthern saw the vehicle travelling at 150 kilometres per hour.
“The speed he was driving is indicative of someone who was … just desperate to escape wherever he was at that point in time,” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said.
The manhunt ended just south of Rosthern, when Mr. Sanderson ran the vehicle off Highway 11 into a wide, green ditch that runs parallel to some nearby CP Rail tracks. For hours after the initial encounter, RCMP SUVs sat blocking the highway, their lights flashing while the vehicle remained in the ditch with its doors flung wide open.
Members of Saskatchewan’s Serious Incident Response Team attended the scene. SIRT is an independent body that investigates incidents involving police, such as when someone suffers serious injury or death either in police custody or as a result of an officer’s actions.
Justin Naytowhow was driving north to Prince Albert on Highway 11 when he saw southbound vehicles barrelling toward him. It was a high-speed chase, with RCMP vehicles pursuing a southbound Avalanche in the northbound lanes, the witness said. Mr. Naytowhow believes Mr. Sanderson was driving the Avalanche.
“They got really close. I almost got in a head-on collision,” Mr. Naytowhow told The Globe and Mail.
He swerved into a ditch to avoid a crash. “He ran me right off the road,” he said. “They were flying. I didn’t have much time to get out of the way.”
The driver of the Avalanche then swerved across the divided highway, Mr. Naytowhow said. “He jumped the road, then he lost control and he hit the ditch on the other side. And that’s when the cops got him.”
Mr. Naytowhow said the Avalanche driver had both hands on the wheel, adding he did not hear any gunshots in the aftermath. He said he also saw military vehicles, ambulance personnel and fire officials and at least one helicopter was involved.
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said the Avalanche was travelling south on Highway 11, but she did not indicate whether the suspect driving on the wrong side of the divided highway. Mr. Sanderson was alone when he was arrested, she said. An initial search of the vehicle did not turn up any drugs, but she noted investigators will search further.
RCMP located a knife in the vehicle, she said.
Police may not be able to determine a motive now that Mr. Sanderson and his brother are dead, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said. Damien Sanderson is still considered a suspect in some of the killings, she said, even though he was found dead in a grassy area near one of the crime scenes on James Smith Cree Nation.
In Prince Albert, shortly after Myles Sanderson was apprehended, James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns spoke at a candlelight vigil. “We’re still in shock,” he said. “The words that I want to say don’t want to come out. A lot of us are impacted in a very sad way.”
Chief Burns said elders have always told him to speak from his heart. Holding his hand to his chest, he said, “I’m holding back a lot of hurt, a lot of anger. I wish this was a dream, but it’s not.”
He said the community must now move forward while remembering the lives lost and by acknowledging that the attacks will have a lasting impact on young and future generations.
After Mr. Sanderson’s arrest, some family members of the victims arrived at the scene and thanked RCMP. One of them was Brian Burns, whose wife, Bonnie Burns, and son, Gregory Burns, were killed in the attacks.
“Now we can start to heal. The healing begins today now,” he said.
He added that the end of the manhunt would bring peace to another of his sons, who was injured.
The James Smith Cree Nation is accepting donations at the nearby Bernard Constant Community School. And family members of Bonnie Burns and Gregory Burns have established an online fundraising campaign in their memory, to support Ms. Burns’ surviving children. An earlier fundraiser for victims collected more than $120,000.
In Weldon, where resident Wes Petterson was killed, the uncertainty that settled over the village while Mr. Sanderson was at large began to dissolve Wednesday evening as news of his capture, and death, spread. More residents were seen outside of their homes.
Resident Dave Barlow said he felt relieved but that there are still questions that must be answered by police. “Why did it take them four days? Why did they say he was in Regina?” he said, adding that it will be difficult to find closure. Even though the manhunt has ended, it won’t bring back Mr. Petterson, he said.
The RCMP had previously focused their search for Mr. Sanderson in and around Regina.
Mr. Sanderson’s criminal history stretches back almost 20 years, with convictions for violence, armed robbery and other attacks, according to court documents. He had previously attacked other members of the James Smith Cree Nation, including two people who have the same names as two of the stabbing victims.
Earlier this year, he was serving a four-year, four-month prison sentence for a number of offences, including a violent scene at the home of his domestic partner and children, beating a man until he was unconscious, and kicking a police officer in the face and on the top of the head repeatedly. Mr. Sanderson received a statutory release after serving two-thirds of the sentence.
Statutory release serves as a way of reintroducing federal offenders more slowly into society, by releasing them under conditions geared toward helping them reintegrate into the community.
But Mr. Sanderson stopped reporting to his parole officer and police put him on the wanted list this spring.
With a report from The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.