Saskatchewan RCMP say Myles Sanderson committed all 11 murders in last month’s stabbing rampage, including that of his brother, Damien Sanderson, whom Mounties now believe was involved only in the planning of the initial attacks.
Myles and Damien were both named suspects on Sept. 4, hours after the killings on James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon that morning. The string of stabbings was among Canada’s deadliest mass murders, and it touched off a frantic manhunt for the brothers.
Damien was found dead the following day, but remained an official suspect in the attacks, which also injured 18 people. Myles was arrested days later after a high-speed chase on a Prairie highway, but died in RCMP custody, under circumstances the force has described only as “medical distress.”
On Thursday afternoon, Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the commander of the Saskatchewan RCMP, told a news conference the force had examined DNA evidence and pored over 100 of the 4,600 calls made to 911 during and after the attacks before making its determinations about Damien’s culpability and the manner of his death.
“The Saskatchewan RCMP believes it is important to clarify Damien’s involvement in the sequence of these events to demonstrate our continued commitment to transparency to the victims and the families of those affected and to the public,” she said.
Mounties are still piecing together an accurate picture of what motivated Myles. He had a long history of violence and, along with his brother, had been dealing drugs on the tiny First Nation, of which they were both members. The two had committed three unreported assaults the day before the killings, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore added. Damien did not have a significant criminal history like his brother, and he was well regarded in the tight-knit community, members of James Smith Cree Nation told The Globe and Mail in the aftermath of the killings.
RCMP also released new information about their response to a 911 call about Damien stealing a truck roughly 24 hours before the first killings. Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said Mounties arrived at the caller’s house around 4 a.m. that Saturday morning and soon went to another house on the First Nation, where they found the truck with its windows down and keys missing.
The officers searched Damien’s name in their database, saw he had an outstanding warrant for assault and studied a mugshot from 2014, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said. When they knocked on the door of the house beside the stolen truck they found seven people inside, including three men, she said.
The officers asked the men if any of them were Damien Sanderson, but did not ask for any identification because they did not have enough evidence to do so, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said. Then they left. Investigators now know Damien was in that house, but he gave the Mounties a fake name, she added. She did not say whether the officers had asked about Myles.
Ivor Burns, whose sister Gloria was killed by Myles, told The Globe that many members of the James Smith Cree Nation feel that the Mounties could have prevented the massacre if they had responded more thoroughly to the stolen truck incident.
“Something has got to change within that RCMP system,” Mr. Burns said, adding that it was a community member – not police – who eventually followed blood stains to find Damien’s body.
At Thursday’s news conference, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said any assertion that her officers could have stopped the killings by responding differently to the earlier incident is “pure speculation.”
“The Saskatchewan RCMP had no information or indication that would suggest any violence was to occur. The events that were going to unfold the next day were unknown to police at that time,” she said.
The Saskatoon Police Service is conducting an independent review of the Saskatchewan RCMP’s actions leading up to the eventual capture of Myles and his death in the custody of Mounties.
Also on Thursday, the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada announced a joint investigation into the circumstances surrounding Myles’s statutory release in February from his latest prison stint, and how he dropped out of touch with his parole officer in the spring, causing a warrant to be issued for his arrest. It remained outstanding until his death.
Mr. Burns said his family is planning a large celebration this Saturday for what would have been the birthday of his sister, who grew up the lone girl among eight brothers. He said the public will be welcomed for pizza, fried chicken and her favourite, Chinese food.
“She’d love it. She loved people. She was a people person and she loved to break bread with anybody and everybody.”