At 4:45 a.m. on Sept. 4, brothers Myles and Damien Sanderson were at a house on the James Smith Cree Nation. An occupant later described them “guzzling booze” and “pumping themselves up for something.”
The RCMP say that was the beginning of Myles’s stabbing massacre, which would leave 12 people dead, including the brothers, another 17 people physically injured, and the lives of countless others forever changed.
“On Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, we truly witnessed the worst of humankind, and the best of humankind,” RCMP Superintendent Joshua Graham said during a 3½-hour news conference in Melfort, Sask., on Thursday, where police released the most detailed timeline yet of the rampage. “The worst, in the tragic murders and horrific injuries inflicted that day. The best, in the brave, caring and selfless acts of community members and first responders that came to the aid of the injured and dying.”
The chronology of events released by the Saskatchewan RCMP offers a glimpse into the scope and complexity of an investigation that included 42 different crime scenes, 697 exhibits and 257 interviews with witnesses.
Details of the cause of Myles’s death in police custody, and of the RCMP’s attempts to locate him when he was wanted on warrants before the attacks, were not part of the presentation. Neither were details of the specific injuries received by the victims and the police response to the stabbings. Those things will be the subjects of a coroner’s inquest, slated to take place in 2024.
“It has been, and continues to be, an incredibly complex and large-scale investigation,” said Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the top-ranking RCMP officer in the province. “The details are unimaginable.”
According to the RCMP, Myles Sanderson, 32, and Damien Sanderson, 31, were selling cocaine around the James Smith Cree Nation that weekend, and committed a number of assaults. Myles assaulted a woman, and both brothers attacked Gregory Burns, who would later be killed. But the RCMP say none of those incidents were reported to police, and that before Sunday morning there was “no information or indication that would suggest any violence was to occur.”
RCMP officers did respond to a complaint early on Saturday, Sept. 3 that Damien had stolen a vehicle, but Myles’s name was not mentioned, and there was no violence reported. (The RCMP now believe officers interacted with Damien during that investigation, but that he gave another person’s name, and looked different than he did in a picture in the police records system.)
At about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, the brothers forced their way into a house looking for a woman. Damien told a child there “it would be the last time they would see him,” Supt. Graham said.
Mounties released details on April 27 about what happened on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon on Sept. 4, when 11 people were killed and 17 were injured. Myles Sanderson, the 32-year-old accused in the attacks, died in police custody a few days later.
The Canadian Press
The first call about the stabbings came in to police about 10 minutes later, after the brothers forced their way into a second home and Myles attacked a man there with scissors. The RCMP say Damien stopped the attack by stepping between his brother and the injured man. As they left, Myles took a knife from the kitchen and the victim called 911.
The RCMP say the brothers got into an altercation inside the vehicle they were in, and Damien fled. He would soon die in nearby trees and bushes. Myles then embarked on a tangled trail of violence, in which he walked, or drove in stolen vehicles, between houses on the First Nation, kicking open doors and climbing through windows to attack and kill people in their homes.
Witnesses described seeing Myles with blood on his face and clothing, talking about “the number of bodies he had so far.” At another house, a witness recalled him asking, “Want to know how many bodies I got tonight?”
After being attacked in his home, one of the victims, Earl Burns Sr., chased Myles in a school bus, before dying along a roadway.
While details of the police response can’t be released before the inquest, Supt. Graham said the first officers were on their way to the community within moments of the first 911 call, driving at speeds of 178 kilometres an hour from Melfort, which is roughly 40 kilometres away by car. He said all available resources were deployed after that.
The last attacks on James Smith Cree Nation were reported to the RCMP at 6:53 a.m. The final murder was reported at 8:19 a.m., in the town of Weldon.
Myles was arrested three days later, after an intensive manhunt and a high-speed highway chase. The RCMP say he went into medical distress shortly after being taken into custody, and was pronounced dead in hospital. The cause of death will be released at the inquest.
The RCMP say a psychological autopsy is being done on Myles in an effort to better understand his actions.
Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said police met with some of the attack’s survivors and their family members before the news conference. She said the force had consulted with families, the community and Indigenous leadership to ensure its approach to releasing the information was culturally sensitive and trauma-informed.
The presentation was punctuated with photographs of the victims: Bonnie Goodvoice Burns, 48; Gregory Burns, 28; Lydia Gloria Burns, 61; Thomas Burns, 23; Carol Burns, 46; Lana Head, 49; Robert Sanderson, 49; Christian Head, 54; Earl Burns Sr., 66; Damien Sanderson, 31; and Wesley Petterson, 78.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult the last seven or so months has been, as the survivors, families, friends and loved ones of the victims, the communities, our province and our country are still reeling from this tragedy,” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said. “We know everyone has been waiting for answers – answers to what happened, answers as to why it happened. Some of these answers, unfortunately, may never be known.”
Supt. Graham said there is no evidence any other suspects were involved, but that the RCMP continue to investigate any new information.