TORONTO — Police continued to search on Tuesday for a man accused in the deadly stabbings in Saskatchewan as details emerged about his years-long history of violence and the victims of one of Canada’s deadliest mass killings.
Authorities continued to comb through 13 separate crime scenes, many on the James Smith Cree Nation reserve and the nearby village of Weldon, where brothers Damien and Myles Sanderson are accused of having committed the massacre in a country where mass killings are relatively rare compared to those in the United States.
Police said Monday that Damien Sanderson’s body was found in a “heavily grassed area” at the James Smith Cree Nation, some 300 miles north of the U.S.-Canada border, with injuries that did not appear to have been self-inflicted. He was 31. They continued to search for Myles Sanderson, 30, who they said Monday has an “extensive and lengthy criminal record” and might be injured.
The Saskatchewan Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday that they had received reports that he had been spotted at the James Smith Cree Nation and advised residents to shelter in place, but they later determined that he was not located in the community.
Myles Sanderson was charged Monday with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Damien Sanderson was charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder before his body was found. Both were charged with breaking and entering, and the RCMP said more charges are likely.
The attacks began Sunday morning, when police received one call and then several more about stabbings at the James Smith Cree Nation, an Indigenous community with a population of 1,800 people some 200 miles north of Regina, the provincial capital.
They left 10 dead and 18 injured, including four who were hospitalized in critical condition on Monday.
The Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service and the Saskatchewan RCMP on Wednesday released the names and ages of the 10 people who were killed. They are Bonnie Burns, 48, Carol Burns, 46, Earl Burns, 66, Gregory Burns, 28, Lydia Gloria Burns, 61, Thomas Burns, 23, Christian Head, 54, Lana Head, 49, and Robert Sanderson, 49, all of the James Smith Cree Nation, and Wesley Petterson, 78, of Weldon.
Authorities said they would not identify or confirm the relationships among the victims, or release the names and ages of those who were injured. They said they included one “young teen”; the rest were adults, male and female.
Rhonda Blackmore, the assistant commissioner of the Saskatchewan RCMP, said some appeared to have been targeted and others were attacked at random.
Gloria Burns was an addictions counselor at the James Smith Cree Nation. Her brothers told local media that she responded to an emergency call during the rash of stabbings and died alongside other victims.
“For her to go into a situation like this where [she was] helping people, even though it cost her life … that’s who she was,” her brother Darryl Burns told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Lana Head, in a Facebook post on the day before the attack, wrote of “so many good memories to cherish.” Her page included photos of her dog Daisy sipping Tim Hortons and advised friends about deals at a local grocery store.
“I’m already missing her voice,” friend Melodie Whitecap wrote in a Facebook post. “She was a sweet, gentle soul, she wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Weldon residents described Petterson as the “sweetest” guy, who kept an eye on the neighborhood. Ruby Works told Global News that she had known him since she was a little girl and he was like an uncle to her.
“When I found out that my friend was killed, I just hit the ground,” she said. “Why would you come in and kill an innocent person who didn’t do anything? He didn’t deserve this.”
Authorities said this week that they hadn’t identified a motive for the attacks. Myles Sanderson was known to them. He was listed as “unlawfully at large” in May after he stopped reporting to his parole supervisor.
Sanderson has a history of violence that began in his youth and continued with “no significant breaks” for nearly two decades, the Parole Board of Canada said in February, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.
The board said Sanderson and his siblings grew up in an environment where physical abuse and domestic violence was commonplace, and he began using drugs and alcohol as a boy.
“You … said that your regular use of cocaine, marijuana and hard alcohol would make you ‘lose your mind’ and that you can be easily angered when drunk, but are a different person when sober,'” the board wrote.
It noted his Indigenous background and listed several factors that might have contributed to his involvement in the criminal justice system, “including intergenerational impacts of residential schools, neglect, exposure to familial and community substance abuse, your own substance abuse issues, exposure to/experiencing domestic violence during your childhood, family fragmentation, lack of education, and loss of culture/spirituality.”
The board said he had 59 convictions as an adult for crimes including assault, assault with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer and robbery, for which he had been serving a prison sentence of four years and four months. Judges imposed a lifetime prohibited-weapons order on him.
In one incident in 2017, the board said, he barged into the home of his ex-partner and acted “in a threatening manner,” frightening two of his children who had been sleeping upstairs, and throwing cement blocks at a car and through a side window.
In another, a few days later, he threatened to murder an employee at a First Nations band store and to burn down the house belonging to the man’s parents.
In 2018, while drinking, he stabbed two men with a fork and then beat another unconscious. Also that year, he kicked a police officer in the face and head repeatedly while he was being placed into a police car.
Sanderson received a statutory release, which is mandated by law for some offenders who have served two-thirds of their sentences and have not been granted full parole, in August 2021. It allows them to serve the rest of their sentence under supervision in their community. One assessment found that he was a medium-to-high risk to reoffend.
He was required to follow several conditions: He could not use drugs or alcohol, he had to follow a treatment plan for substance abuse and violence, and he could not enter into relationships with women without the permission of his parole officer.
His release was suspended in November after his parole supervisor learned that he had been living with his ex-spouse and children in violation of the conditions, according to the parole board. It canceled the suspension in February and issued a reprimand.
The board said he seemed to have maintained sobriety during his release, had obtained a job and a house for his family, was engaged in cultural ceremonies, and “appeared to have been making good progress on reintegration.”
“It is the Board’s opinion that you will not present an undue risk to society if released on statutory release and that your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen,” it said.
Marco Mendicino, Canada’s public safety minister, told reporters Tuesday that he has been told that the parole board plans to investigate its decision.
“I’m extremely concerned with what occurred here,” he said.