JAMES SMITH CREE NATION — T wo men on the run from Canadian police were charged with murdering 10 people in a stabbing rampage that devastated an indigenous community in Canada, a nation where mass violence is rare.
Police launched a manhunt for Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30, accusing them of stabbing people in 13 different areas across Saskatchewan on Sunday. At least 18 others were wounded.
The attacks, which indigenous leaders said were drug-related, 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. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3cKaBP0)
A mother of two, a 77-year-old widower, a first responder and a 14-year-old boy were the initial victims identified.
The accused were last seen traveling in a black Nissan Rogue and spotted on Sunday in the city of Regina, about 320 km (200 miles) south of the attacks in the James Smith Cree Nation and the village of Weldon, police said.
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.
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.
In the search for the stabbing suspects, hundreds of police and staff were dedicated to the investigation, said Saskatchewan RCMP Commanding Officer Rhonda Blackmore.
“We are confident someone out there knows the whereabouts of these two and has information that will be valuable to the police and I urge you to get in touch with your local police,” Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said.
CBC News reported that 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.
VICTIMS YOUNG AND OLD
Ivor Wayne Burns of James Smith Cree Nation said three of the victims – his sister Gloria Lydia Burns, a woman and the 14-year-old boy – died at a single location.
Gloria Burns, a member of the community’s crisis response team, was killed when she attended an emergency call.
“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.
Burns said the men responsible for the killings are band members and were high at the time of the crimes. Police have not identified drugs or alcohol as a factor or said where the two accused lived.
Doreen Lees, 89, said she and her daughter were sitting on their porch in Weldon on Sunday morning when a dark SUV sped past, an unusual sight in the small village.
Shortly after, a man approached them saying he was hurt, Lees said, adding that he stood around 10 feet away and had his face covered. Her daughter ran inside to call police. But then the man took off, she said.
“At the time the person didn’t make us feel nervous. We just thought he was hurt and he needed some help,” Lees said. “But he didn’t stop and wait for the help, then we wondered ‘What is going on here?’”
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.
Indigenous people account for less than 5% of Canada’s population of about 38 million and suffer from higher levels of poverty and unemployment than other Canadians and also have a shorter life expectancy.
(Reporting by David Stobbe in James Smith Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, and Kanishka Singh in Washington Writing by Rami Ayyub and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Alistair Bell)