Blue Line

Chaotic, unpredictable: RCMP give update of mass killing at James Smith Cree Nation

April 27, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 27, 2023, Melfort, Sask. – RCMP in Saskatchewan laid out a timeline Thursday of how a mass killer moved around a First Nation selling drugs, stealing vehicles, busting down doors and attacking people while leaving others unharmed.

The brother of one woman who was killed last year said it’s impossible to know what was in the attacker’s mind.

“There was so much confusion, there was so much turmoil,” said Darryl Burns, whose sister Lydia Gloria Burns was killed.

“Looking back on it, you couldn’t really tell where he was going to go or what he was going to do.”

Mounties said the killer, 32-year-old Myles Sanderson, was selling cocaine and causing trouble in the days before the Sept. 4 rampage on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon.

Eleven people were killed and 17 were injured. RCMP had previously said 18 people were wounded but revised the number during the investigation.

Sanderson also died in police custody a few days later.

Supt. Joshua Graham said Sanderson had been selling drugs with his brother Damien Sanderson at the First Nation northeast of Saskatoon on Sept. 1. They also attacked some residents and stole a vehicle.

Mounties investigating the theft were looking were looking for Damien Sanderson and searched a home where he was. But RCMP said he provided officers with a different name and he didn’t look like the outdated photo they had of him.

The officers were not told of any of the assaults involving the brothers and had no indication of the massacre that was about to happen, said RCMP.

On Sept. 3, Damien Sanderson told people at a bar in nearby Kinistino that he and his brother had a “mission” and “people would hear all about it in the next few hours.”

Damien Sanderson, however, was one of the first people killed the morning of the rampage.

After the brothers attacked a man in his home and Myles Sanderson stole a kitchen knife, they got into a fight. An injured Damien Sanderson ran off into some a treed area, where he was found dead the next day.

Myles Sanderson next went to different homes in the community and lashed out with the knife. He first killed Robert Sanderson, 49.

At another house, Myles Sanderson killed Christian Head, 54, and Lana Head, 49.

And at another home, he killed Gregory Burns, 28, and attacked the man’s mother, Bonnie Burns, 48, and two young boys. He would later return to the house and kill the mother, as well as Lydia Gloria Burns, 61, who had showed up to help.

Sanderson ominously threatened others after storming into their homes, saying they were lucky.

Sanderson was covered in blood, holding a knife, witnesses told RCMP. One said Sanderson asked him: “Want to know how many bodies I got tonight?”

Officers arrived at the First Nation about 6:18 a.m. but didn’t locate Sanderson.

Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, commanding officer of the Saskatchewan RCMP, said “his attacks were unpredictable.” He was abandoning vehicles, stealing others and moving on foot, she said.

“It was very rapidly unfolding, very dynamic and chaotic situation,” Blackmore said.

Almost an hour into the rampage, Sanderson went to the home of his former father-in-law, Earl Burns, and attacked the 66-year-old. RCMP said despite his injuries, the local school bus driver got into his bus and tried to chase down Sanderson. He later died in the bus.

Sanderson next killed Thomas Burns, 23, and Carol Burns, 46, who were visiting family on the First Nation.

He left the community just before 7 a.m. He stopped in Kinistino then headed to Weldon, where he killed Wesley Petterson, 78, at his home.

The province was on edge as police searched for Sanderson for days, with sightings of the killer in Regina and back on the First Nation.

On Sept. 7, Sanderson broke into a home and stole a vehicle from an acreage in the Crystal Springs area.

Not long after, RCMP sped down rural roads in the area and a helicopter hovered overhead. Sanderson was taken into custody after the vehicle he was driving hit a ditch and went into trees along a highway near Rosthern.

Shortly after, police said he went into medical distress and died.

Blackmore said the RCMP investigation into the attacks was incredibly complex. Officers examined 42 different crime scenes, including buildings and vehicles. They also seized about 700 exhibits and spoke with more than 250 witnesses.

Blackmore said she understands people have many questions about how the mass killing could have happened.

“Some of those answers, unfortunately, may never be known.”

A few people from the First Nation attended the RCMP presentation in a community centre in Melfort, Sask., but the victims’ families and survivors had received the update Wednesday.

Deborah Burns and Vanessa Burns, daughters of Earl Burns, and his widow, Joyce Burns, who was wounded that day, said receiving a bit more information from RCMP has brought a small amount of healing.

Seeing the RCMP map project the route that he took in the school bus to try to save his family made the women emotional.

“He’s my hero. He saved me,” Joyce Burns said.

Mounties said some information was withheld during the update as not to affect two coroner’s inquests set for early next year. One of the inquests is to focus on the killings, while the other is to look into the killer’s death while in custody.

Print this page


Stories continue below