‘Collective sigh of relief’: Stabbings suspect Myles Sanderson dead after highway pursuit

RCMP on scene on Highway 11 after the arrest of Myles Sanderson on Sept. 7. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Story Posted for: NoMoreFalseGods


Alec Salloum

Four days of tension punctuated by blaring emergency alerts gave way to relief then surprise on Wednesday as a manhunt that gripped the province ended with the death of Myles Sanderson, wanted in Saskatchewan’s largest mass killing.

Around 3:30 p.m., RCMP issued a notice saying the 32-year-old had been taken into custody. Then hours later, sources confirmed — and the RCMP later announced — that the man wanted following the stabbing rampage on Sunday that left 10 people dead and 18 injured on James Smith Cree Nation and nearby village of Weldon had died.

“Our province is breathing a collective sigh of relief,” Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, commanding officer of Saskatchewan RCMP, said at a media conference late Wednesday night.

“I can confirm that he is no longer a threat, and there is no risk to the public related to this investigation.”

In addition to the 10 people killed on Sunday, Damien Sanderson — the brother of Myles — was found dead Monday on James Smith Cree Nation. RCMP said he had visible wounds that weren’t consistent with self-harm. Police earlier this week did not confirm or deny that Myles was a suspect in Damien’s death, saying only it was an avenue they were investigating.

Prior to news breaking about the Myles Sanderson’s death, some victims’ families shared a sense of comfort that he was in custody and no longer a danger to them, or anyone else.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Darryl Burns, whose sister Gloria was among those killed.

Added Herbert Burns: “Nobody is going to get hurt anymore.”


[RCMP on scene on Highway 11 after the arrest of Myles Sanderson north of Saskatoon on Sept. 7. Sanderson died in police custody of what RCMP described as “medical distress.” PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix]

Sanderson was taken into police custody on Highway 11 north of Saskatoon after police caught up to a stolen truck and forced it off the road. He later went into medical distress and was transported to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A source close to the investigation said police believe Sanderson took drugs before he was arrested and overdosed while in custody. He was alive when arrested and then went into distress.

Blackmore said RCMP members did all they could for Sanderson until EMS arrived.

“All life-saving measures that we’re capable of were taken at that point in time until the arrival of EMS,” she said.

Police say a knife was found in the truck, but an initial search found no drugs in the vehicle or in Sanderson’s possession.

Sanderson was charged with three murders, attempted murder and break-and-enter. RCMP previously indicated more charges were possible as the investigation continues.

Damien Sanderson was also facing murder charges related to the killings. According to Blackmore, all witness accounts collected thus far indicate that it was only Myles who was “responsible,” but Damien is still facing charges at this time.

“Our indications at this point in time were that it was Myles Sanderson,” she said. “Our investigation, as I said, continues to evolve.”

Myles was believed to have been injured either during or after the attacks, but police could not confirm this detail.

Asked if Sanderson had help during the four-day manhunt, Blackmore said investigators will “certainly be looking at all those avenues to determine if there was anyone that was aiding him.”

[After evading capture since Sunday, police responded to a report of a stolen truck and a person with a knife after 2 p.m. Wednesday in Wakaw. RCMP arrested Myles Sanderson on Highway 11, north of Saskatoon, less than two hours later. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix]

With Damien and Myles dead, Blackmore conceded that there may never be answers to why the killings happened and that “we may never have an understanding of that motivation.

Police have conducted over 120 interviews with witnesses and more are expected. Blackmore said she understands that with the international attention this manhunt has drawn, there is a public desire for answers, but that may never happen.

“Witnesses and people around him only have so much information. His motivation may, at this time and forever, only be known to Myles,” she said.

Blackmore said the RCMP’s work “does not stop here,” noting that the vast number of interviews conducted will be “beneficial to us in solving this.” She said she was in James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon earlier Wednesday and remarked on the “generosity and support” she saw in those communities.

She wants to be able to provide a further timeline and better understanding of events over the past four days, but said police can do that without making public all the words from interviews.

“We wouldn’t release those interviews. When we interview those individuals, they are reliving that trauma and you can imagine how they’d feel to see their words out in the media,” she said.

[After the arrest, an ambulance with a police escort was seen racing south down Highway 11 and later on Saskatoon’s Idylwyld Drive at the intersection of 33rd Street. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix]

Police had searched for Myles Sanderson in multiple communities, including James Smith Cree Nation and Regina. Blackmore on Wednesday night said investigators are “hoping to piece together the timeline of where he was since Sunday.”

On Wednesday, RCMP responded around 2:10 p.m. to a report of a stolen truck in Wakaw and a person with a knife. According to RCMP in an emergency alert sent just before 3 p.m., police said they believed “this may be related” to the search.

The person was travelling in a 2008 white Chevrolet Avalanche that was last seen on Wakaw’s Cemetery Road. Around an hour later, a stream of police vehicles in and around Saskatoon and Highway 11 were spotted driving at high speeds. The stolen vehicle was forced off the road into a ditch and at 3:30 p.m., Myles Sanderson was taken into custody near Rosthern, RCMP said.

The RCMP has requested that the Saskatoon Police Service and the Saskatchewan Incident Response Team conduct an investigation into his death. An independent observer appointed by the Ministry of Justice has also been requested.

“I expect there will be reviews, but I can’t speak to exactly what those are,” Blackmore said.

[It is believed the police pursuit of the stolen vehicle, a 2008 white Chevrolet Avalanche, led to Sanderson’s arrest about 40 km west of Wakaw, less than 1.5 hours after the tip was reported. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix]

Prior to Sanderson’s death being reported, the FSIN expressed relief that the wanted man was in custody.

“To the men and women in uniform who have worked day and night to track down and arrest this dangerous criminal, thank you. The healing process begins,” FSIN said in a statement.

Premier Scott Moe on Twitter said the people of Saskatchewan owe police and first responders “a great debt of gratitude.

“To the men and women in uniform who have worked day and night to track down and arrest this dangerous criminal, thank you.”

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said victims and those affected will need continued support.

“We are relieved that Sanderson has been arrested and the manhunt is over. Now people can start to feel safe again but also now is the time for healing to begin,” Arcand said in statement prior to Sanderson’s death being announced.

Opposition Leader Carla Beck also tweeted of her relief and hope for healing. “It feels like as a province, we’ve been collectively holding our breath over the last four days.”

Sanderson had an extensive criminal record with a history of violence, including uttering threats to assault or kill members of James Smith Cree Nation. Among those that Sanderson threatened and assaulted was Earl Burns, who was stabbed in 2015 by Sanderson, and ultimately killed during the spree on Sunday.

For stabbing Burns in January 2015, Sanderson was sentenced to two years less a day in jail.

Sanderson had numerous charges of assault against one woman, identified through court documents to be the mother of his children, several times over a 10-year period.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he wants to know why the parole board decided to release Sanderson given his record.

“I’m extremely concerned with what occurred here. A community has been left reeling,” Mendicino said.

Earlier on Wednesday the provincial coroner, in conjunction with Saskatchewan RCMP and in collaboration with the families of the victims, released the names of 10 people who died as a result of the stabbings on James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon.

The victims identified are Thomas Burns, 23; Carol Burns, 46; Gregory “Jones” Burns, 28; Bonnie Burns, 48; Lydia Gloria Burns, 61; Earl Burns, 66; Lana Head, 49; Christian Head, 54; Robert Sanderson, 49; and Wesley Petterson, 78.

RCMP and the provincial coroner confirmed one young teen was injured and the remaining injured are all adults.

Myles Sanderson, named by RCMP as a suspect in a stabbing spree that killed 11 people, including his brother Damien who was also charged with murder, and injured 19, including himself, is shown in two undated photos. The suspect vehicle is a black Nissan Rogue with Sask. licence plate 119 MPI.


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