Canada stabbing spree suspect dies in custody

Myles Sanderson died after he was arrested by police for the deaths of 10 people in Saskatchewan stabbing spree.

A white pick up truck with its doors open after being forced off the road by police in Saskatchewan, Canada
Myles Sanderson was arrested after a highway pursuit in which his truck was forced off the road [Lars Hagberg/AFP]

Myles Sanderson, the second suspect in a deadly stabbing spree in Canada, has died after his car was run off the road, according to police.

The four-day manhunt had worsened grief and fear in the remote communities where 10 people were killed and more than a dozen others were injured last weekend.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in the province of Saskatchewan said that Sanderson had been found near Rosthern, a town about 130km (80 miles) from the attacks in James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon.

He went into “medical distress” shortly after his arrest and was taken to hospital in Saskatoon where he was pronounced dead, Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said at a press conference.

“The Saskatchewan RCMP has requested the Saskatoon Police Service and the Saskatchewan Incident Response Team to conduct the independent, external investigation into circumstances surrounding the incident,” she said, adding that the police presence in the affected communities would continue.

“Again, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the families and all those affected and impacted by these events. Our thoughts are with you, and I hope that now you will be able to start healing.”

Canadian media reported earlier that Sanderson’s wounds were self-inflicted after his white truck was run off the road following a high-speed police chase.

Police cars on the verge around a white truck driven by Myles Sanderson against a backdrop of flat fields and trees
Myles Sanderson had been on the run since the weekend and was finally picked up on Highway 11 in Weldon, Saskatchewan [Lars Hagberg/AFP]

Sanderson faced three counts of first-degree murder, among other charges, in relation to the fatal attacks that devastated the Indigenous community of James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby village of Weldon.

The rampage on Sunday marked one of the deadliest incidents of violence in Canada’s history, spurring anguish in the province of Saskatchewan and across the country.

Earlier on Wednesday, authorities released the names of the 10 people killed in the attacks.

Most of the people killed, who ranged in age from 23 to 78, were from James Smith Cree Nation, a First Nation community home to about 1,900 people who live on the reserve, while one was from Weldon. They are:

  • Thomas Burns, 23, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Carol Burns, 46, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Gregory Burns, 28, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Lydia Gloria Burns, 61, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Bonnie Burns, 48, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Earl Burns, 66, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Lana Head, 49, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Christian Head, 54, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Robert Sanderson, 49, of James Smith Cree Nation
  • Wesley Petterson, 78, of Weldon

The RCMP said the names of the 18 people injured in the attacks would not be released but confirmed that a young teenager was among those hurt. The other injured people are adult men and women, police said.

Mark Arcand, whose sister Bonnie Burns and nephew Gregory Burns were killed, said he did not want Bonnie to be remembered as a victim.

His sister was devoted to her family and “made a difference in people’s lives”, Arcand said during a news conference on Wednesday. “She’s not a victim. She’s a hero,” he said.

“She always put other people before her. That’s what we want people to remember. We want people to remember how she made you laugh, how she told stories at Christmas … at kids’ birthdays, at weddings, at celebrations.”

Canada stabbing spree victims.
The 10 people killed in the stabbing spree: (Top row, left to right) Lydia Gloria Burns, Gregory Burns, Lana Head, Earl Burns, Wesley Petterson, and (bottom row, left to right) Christian Head, Carol Burns, Bonnie Burns, Robert Sanderson, Thomas Burns [Courtesy RCMP/Sask First Nations Veterans Association/Facebook]

Days-long search

Myles Sanderson’s brother, Damien Sanderson, was also a suspect and faced a first-degree murder charge, but he was found dead in James Smith Cree Nation on Monday. Police said Damien Sanderson’s body bore injuries “not believed to be self-inflicted”.

Just before police said Myles Sanderson was taken into custody on Wednesday, they issued an emergency alert that said a person “armed with a knife” was travelling in a stolen car in Wakaw, a town about 110km (70 miles) southwest of James Smith Cree Nation.

The alert “may be related” to the attacks, Saskatchewan RCMP said at that time.

Police a day earlier had ordered residents of the Indigenous community to shelter in place after they received reports of a “possible sighting” of Myles Sanderson. They later said he was not in the community.

Earlier this week, police also had said Myles Sanderson could be in Regina, the provincial capital, approximately 320km (200 miles) from where the attacks took place.

An Indigenous leader had urged the public to come forward with information about Myles Sanderson’s whereabouts, saying the uncertainty of the days-long search was worsening their plight.

“The uncertainty continues to cause immeasurable stress and panic among our families, friends, and neighbours,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“They have already gone through enough. We must do everything we can to help end this tragedy without any more loss of life.”

Criminal record

Myles Sanderson had a lengthy criminal record, and many of his crimes occurred when he was intoxicated, Canadian media outlets reported. In May, he was listed as “unlawfully at large” after he stopped meeting with his parole officer following a statutory release from prison.

Citing a Parole Board of Canada document, the Canadian Press also said he had a violence-filled childhood, which led to a “cycle of substance abuse, seeking out negative peers and violent behaviour”. He could be “easily angered when drunk”, the document said.

The Canadian government has said there will be an independent investigation into the parole decision in Myles Sanderson’s case.

“We’ve got to make sure that the laws work, and in this particular case, obviously [it] led to an indescribably difficult tragedy,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters on Tuesday.

“I do think that coming out of this, there needs to be a hard look across all of our policies and all of our laws. But right now, the most important priority is to be there to support the families.”

First Nations University, a First Nations-owned institution in Saskatchewan, said candlelit vigils would be held at its three campuses in the province on Wednesday evening.

“What happened is unfathomable – a beautiful morning darkened by loss. Collectively, we feel the shock, so together, we will mourn, pray, and heal,” President Jacqueline Ottmann said in a statement. “Our hearts are broken, but our will and resolve to survive and move through this trauma, from the unspeakable, is unshaken.”

Source: Al Jazeera