‘Mission-driven’: Murder motives revealed at James Smith Cree Nation inquest

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Murder motives revealed in James Smith Cree Nation stabbing inquest
“His mission was to attack, hurt, injure, those with whom he had a grievance. It’s as simple as that." Myles Sanderson's motives for killing his victims released on day five of the coroner's inquest surrounding the stabbings at James Smith Cree Nation – Jan 19, 2024

The Saskatchewan coroner’s inquest into killings on James Smith Cree Nation and in the Weldon community has released Myles Sanderson’s motives for killing his victims.

RCMP profile and threat unit member Carl Sesely said many of Sanderson’s victims were part of the Saskatchewan gang “Terror Squad” or were associated with someone in the group, making them primary targets on his list.

Text messages shown earlier in the inquest suggested Sanderson held a particular hatred for the gang and its members. RCMP found no evidence of Sanderson’s involvement in a gang at the time of the killings or why the Terror Squad was so triggering for him.

“His mission was to attack, hurt, injure, those with whom he had a grievance. It’s as simple as that,” Sesely said.

According to RCMP, Sanderson believed at least six of his victims were direct members of the Terror Squad, targeting them and their relatives.

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Sanderson also stabbed other victims in the community that the RCMP said didn’t have a connection to the Terror Squad, and was motivated by other grievances such as drug debts, threatening to call the cops, or simply standing in his way.

“Grievance-based targets are mission orientated, mission-driven,” Sesely said. “They want to complete their task, anyone who gets in their way will be a victim of violence.”

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Text messages sent from Damien Sanderson’s phone before the attack said the brothers had a “mission”, a common theme among mass casualty events according to the RCMP.

After the first assault, Damien tried to stop his brother, becoming the first homicide victim in Sanderson’s massacre.

“He was pulled in by his brother. We believe he truly didn’t want to be involved,” Sesely said.

The RCMP ruled Damien a “reactive target” – killed because he stood in the way of Myles’ mission.

Sanderson also targeted the family members of Damien’s wife, as well as those of his common law partner, Vanessa Burns.

According to testimony from Burns and Damien’s wife Skye Sanderson earlier in the week, both families didn’t get along with Sanderson because he was aggressive and abusive.

Sesely said Sanderson’s motive for killing Weldon victim Wesley Petterson was less clear, testifying it was likely because he refused to give Sanderson his vehicle.

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Several people who interacted with Sanderson along his killing spree were spared from violence, including his mother and another relative.

“He simply walked away,” Sesely said. “It was another reason why grievance is so important. He was not interested in just the body count.”

Criminal investigative psychologist Matthew Logan told the inquest Friday that he believes Sanderson was plagued by psychopathy, showing traits of explosive disorder and anti-social personality disorder.

After reviewing files from the Saskatchewan penitentiary, he said Sanderson’s childhood was riddled with “abuse and instability”.

He was suspended from most of the schools he went to after violent episodes, and never finished high school. He began abusing alcohol at age 13. He was involved in a gang until he was 17.

Sanderson was in the top six per cent of males with psychopathy in Canadian penitentiaries, inmates who have a high risk of violently reoffending, according to criminal investigative psychologist Matthew Logan.

Logan suggested Sanderson’s rampage could have been brought on by an “acute trigger.” Despite a dangerous history, he was released from the penitentiary on stautory release just months before the killings.

Two days before the rampage, Sanderson beat his partner Vanessa, choked her and tried to run her over with a vehicle – a violent event Logan said could have set him off.

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He wasn’t arrested until Sept. 7, 2022, near Rosthern, Saskatchewan after he had stabbed his way through James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon.

The RCMP said he was on his way to Saskatoon to kill Burns.

The first week of the inquest adjourned Friday evening and is scheduled to resume on Monday.

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