Canadian police searched the sprawling province of Saskatchewan for two suspects believed to have stabbed to death 10 people in an aboriginal community and a nearby town in one of the deadliest mass killings in the country’s history.
The suspects also wounded 15 people in the series of knife attacks that prompted the James Smith Cree Nation to declare a state of emergency and badly shook residents of the nearby village of Weldon.
“Nobody in this town is going to sleep again. They’re going to be terrified if they open their door,” said Weldon resident Ruby Works, who was close to one of the victims.
Police, meanwhile, said a vehicle believed to be carrying the two suspects was located in Regina, about 335 kilometers (208 miles) south of the communities where the stabbings took place.
Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said late Sunday that they still believe the suspects are in Regina.
“If you are in the Regina area, please take precautions and consider evacuating. Do not leave a secure location. DO NOT approach suspicious people. Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Report suspicious persons, emergencies or information to 9-1-1. Do not disclose police locations,” the RCMP said in a message on Twitter.
The suspects were identified as Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30.
“It’s horrific what happened in our province today,” said Rhonda Blackmore, RCMP Assistant Commissioner in Saskatchewan, adding that there were 13 crime scenes where people were found dead or injured.
Blackmore said some of the victims appear to have been targeted by the suspects, but others appear to have been attacked at random.
He could not provide a motive, but the head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations issued a statement saying the stabbings may be drug-related.
Elected leaders of the three communities that make up the James Smith Cree Nation, including the Chakastaypasin Band and Peter Chapman Band, declared a local state of emergency and opened two emergency operations centers.
Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson – who is not related to the suspects – said everyone has been affected by the tragic events.
“They were our relatives, man,” Sanderson said of the victims. “It’s too horrible.”
“This is the disaster we face when harmful illegal drugs invade our communities and we demand that all authorities take direction from Chiefs and Councils and their members to create safer and healthier communities for our people,” said Federation Leader Bobby Cameron. Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Among the 10 victims killed was Lana Head, who is the ex-partner of Michael Brett Burns and the mother of their two daughters.
Burns told Aboriginal TV that “it’s sickening how incarceration, drugs and alcohol can destroy so many lives,” he said. “I’m hurt for all this loss.”
Last May, Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers issued a wanted list that included Myles Sanderson, writing that he was “unlawfully at large.”
It is one of the deadliest mass murders in Canadian history. The deadliest gun attack in Canadian history occurred in 2020 when a man disguised as a police officer shot people in their homes and set fires across rural Nova Scotia, killing 22 people. A man used a truck to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto in 2019. But mass killings are less common in Canada than in the United States.
Fatal mass stabbings are rarer than mass shootings, but they have occurred around the world. In 2014, 29 people were hacked and stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming. In 2016, a mass stabbing at a facility for the mentally retarded in Sagamihara, Japan, left 19 dead. A year later, three men killed eight people in a vehicle and knife attack on London Bridge.
Doreen Lees, an 89-year-old grandmother from Weldon, said she and her daughter thought they saw one of the suspects when a car drove up her driveway early Sunday morning as her daughter was drinking coffee on her deck. Lees said a man approached them and said he was hurt and needed help.
But Lees said the man took off and ran after her daughter said she was going to call for help.
“He didn’t show his face. He had a big jacket on his face. We asked his name and he mumbled his name twice and we still couldn’t get it,” he said. “He said his face was so badly injured he couldn’t show it.”
He said the man was alone and “kind of wobbly.”
“I followed him a few ways to see if he would be all right. My daughter said “Don’t follow him, come back here”.
Weldon residents have identified one of the victims as Wes Petterson. Ruby Works said the 77-year-old widow was like an uncle to her.
“I collapsed and hit the ground. I’ve known him since I was a little girl,” she said, describing the moment she heard the news. He said he loved his cats, was proud of his homemade Saskatoon berry jam and often helped his neighbors.
“Did nothing. He didn’t deserve this. He was a good, kind-hearted man,” Works said.
Weldon resident Robert Rush also described the victim as a polite, widowed man in his 70s.
“It wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he said.
Russ said Peterson’s grown grandson was in the basement at the time and called police.
At Weldon Christian Tabernacle Church, the congregation began its regular Sunday service by saying a special prayer for the victims and their families.
In the James Smith Cree Nation, a convenience store that doubles as a gas station became a gathering place for community members, who greeted each other with tears and hugs.
A sign on the door read: “Due to safety concerns with our community, we will be closed until further notice.”
The search for the suspects was conducted as fans descended on Regina for a sold out annual Labor Day game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Regina Police Service said in a press release that with the help of the Mounties, it was working on multiple fronts to locate and apprehend the suspects and had “deployed additional public safety resources across the city, including the football game at Mosaic Stadium .”
The alert first issued by Melfort, Saskatchewan RCMP at about 7 a.m. was extended hours later to cover Manitoba and Alberta as the two suspects remained at large.
The Saskatchewan health authority said many patients are being treated at various locations.
“Additional personnel have been called in to respond to the influx of victims,” authorities spokeswoman Ann Linneman said in an email.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that he was “shocked and devastated by the horrific attacks.”
“As Canadians, we mourn with all those affected by this tragic violence, and with the people of Saskatchewan,” Trudeau said.
Associated Press reporter Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.