Inside was a pile of badges in the shape of yellow roses, meticulously carved from wood.
Nesbitt picked through the box in confusion: no note, no indication as to what or who the items were intended for.
“His hat! Wes’s hat,” one of the other women cried. Nesbitt’s face lit up.
“Yes, that’s right. He always wore that hat with the big yellow flower. Oh, Wes…”
Each of the three women rummaged through the box, scooped out a rose and pinned the flowers to their shirts, laughing as they recalled Wes Petterson’s penchant for flowery hats and his other playful antics.
Petterson, 78, was one of 11 people slain during one of Canada’s worst-ever mass killings after a series of stabbings on Sunday that took place at James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon. Nineteen people were injured.
The RCMP had initially embarked on a multi-province manhunt to find two brothers — Damien and Myles Sanderson — in relation to the murders. However, Damien’s body was found on Monday morning at a location on the James Smith reserve with injuries not believed to be self-inflicted. Myles Sanderson is still at large.
On Monday, the morning after the murders, the tiny village of Weldon and its population of about 300 people were still reeling from the attacks on their community. Residents, with parked cars in their garages, sheltered inside and refused to answer their doors. The streets were largely devoid of life, aside from one hub of commotion surrounding Petterson’s house.
Friends of Petterson’s across Weldon have painted a picture of a kind-hearted man who loved planting flowers and was active in the community. For about three decades, he was a member of the Weldon Silvertone Club and was the man the centre depended on to come down every day at 6.30 a.m. to make coffee for the village’s older men, who gathered with him every morning.
Three times a week, the women of Weldon congregate for bowls, and on a Monday afternoon, they gathered for the first time since the tragedy befell the community.
Their conversation oscillates between boisterous jeers and cheers as balls rolled across a roll-out mat, and snippets of news about Petterson’s murder and sightings of the suspect from the day before.
While Sanderson lived alongside the victims in James Smith Cree Nation, Weldon residents speculate that he targeted Petterson’s house randomly.
“He was a lovely man, he would never provoke anybody,” Nesbitt says.
“He would open the door to anyone and that’s what might have got him in trouble.”
The suspect also approached at least one other house in town before he fled. Doreen Lees was one of them.
“And hello to you,” the woman says. “We’re glad you’re still here with us.”
Lees finishes her story, in visceral detail, over the course of the afternoon.
Petterson’s grandson sheltered in basement
When you approach Weldon from Prince Albert on Highway 3, a wooden sign announces the turn-off: : “Weldon: Where neighbours are friends.”
It is a statement that seems hard-wired into a community who are trying to support each other through unspeakable tragedy, by any means necessary.
On Monday afternoon, Petterson’s house, on a quiet, gravel road in Weldon, is an unsettling scene. Investigators walk back and forth from a nearby van in Hazmat suits, stopping to photograph points of interest on the front lawn and the porch.
Several residents told Global News Petterson’s body was found on the porch, just inside his front door. His 25-year-old grandson hid from the attacker in the basement, where he called the police.
Two bunches of flowers have been placed on the lawn outside the small, wooden bungalow. One of the bunches was delivered by 42-year-old local resident Ruby Works.
Works is hanging about the scene with her rusting old bike, eager to speak with reporters. She is trying to raise awareness about Petterson, she says, because she is angry that too much attention dwells on the man who might have killed him.
Works says she believes she saw Sanderson on Sunday, during his rampage, while she was outside looking for her cat who had been missing for five days.
“He drove past me and waved,” she says.
Works says Petterson was “like an uncle to me.” She would often accompany him to the Silvertone Club to put the coffee on in the mornings. She last saw him just 24 hours before he died, when she joined him for their ritual.
Despite the murder of one of their most beloved members mere hours earlier, the men of the Weldon Silvertone Club met as usual on Monday morning.
“But they didn’t pay for their coffees!” Mabe Nesbitt says in mock horror, rifling through the donations box in the centre’s kitchen.
A community in mourning
It’s 31 C outside as seven women filter into the Silvertone Club’s kitchen, eager to escape the glare of the sun. They all seem relatively upbeat, considering the circumstances.
Nesbitt greets each one with news of the mysterious box of wooden roses left on the porch. They, too, each take a rose dutifully and attach it to their shirts.
Conversations then move to the welfare of each other, Petterson’s relatives and anything new that had been heard about the circumstances of his death or of sightings of the suspects.
Several comments are made about a well-worn and cracked stool in the corner of the room. That was Petterson’s chair, they recall fondly.
The most affectionate greetings are reserved for Lees, who admits she is still in shock after Sanderson paid a visit to her house either before or after killing Petterson.
“We were sitting outside on the porch, my daughter and me,” she tells the room, but the hushed side conversations between other women suggest they’ve already heard some of this story.
“This guy came along — he just appeared about 20 feet away,” Lees continues.
“He had a jacket around his face, I could only see his eyes and hair. He said ‘Can you help me? I’ve been stabbed.’”
His jacket was neatly folded around his face, and his clothes looked clean, Lees says. The latter point was the reason she questioned his story.
“I stood on the porch as my daughter went inside and the guy was gone. I tore after him to see what was going on, to see where he was going and if there was a car. But my daughter called me back.”
While inside, Lees’ daughter called the police. She says they arrived shortly after, but in the meantime, Sanderson had fled.
“We think there was a car waiting because a car sped past our house after.”
In the 24 hours since, Lees admits she has been struggling to cope with the knowledge that she could have been among the dead. She’s taking heart medication to cope and her daughter is taking aspirin to calm her down.
When the women ask what Sanderson was like and how he acted, Lees is nonchalant. She stresses that he seemed calm and wasn’t intimidating.
“What, you go and slash someone, and then you go and say hello to the neighbours?” Nesbitt remarks incredulously.
Conversation turns to Petterson’s family. His grandson had been living with him after the death of both of his parents. The women shake their heads and tut sympathetically.
“You’d think that on a Sunday morning, you can have a coffee on your deck without a mass murderer coming along,” another woman, who asked not to be named, says under her breath.
Speaking to me alone, Nesbitt, Silvertone’s co-treasurer, laughs darkly as she says she moved to Weldon eight years ago from Saskatoon to retire “somewhere quieter.”
She says much of the focus right now was figuring out why it was Petterson who was targeted. That, and slowly getting back to life as normal, after the community was driven into hiding during the manhunt.
“Yesterday it was atrocious. Everyone was sick and scared to leave their homes. But today I said, ‘To hell with it, sister, I was out playing golf,’” Nesbitt says.
Shortly after 2 p.m., Nesbitt ushers everyone into the hall, where the bowling mat is set out. The women take their turns behind the mark, conversations moving haphazardly between how much power is behind the ball as it rolls down the mat and where it should rest — encouraged along by a few “oohs” and disappointed groans — and more happenings from Sunday.
“June also had a clunky old car parked in her lane,” one woman says.
“Really? The same one?” another replies.
“The police have been around a few times,” another woman says, her response to their visits drowned out by a particularly on-point roll from Nesbitt.
The women wonder what they would have done if they were in Lees’ position — whether they’d have the courage, if it came down to it, to act in self-defence if they had a weapon and where they should aim it.
Things get pretty morbid. But then Nesbitt pretends to moon me as I’m taking pictures and the room erupts in laughter. They seem glad for the distraction.
Nesbitt explains that they’re a close group of friends who are supporting each other through a hard time — by any means necessary. The others nod in quiet agreement.
“People say, ‘What’s in Weldon?’ The people, that’s what. I love these women,” another says.