James Smith Cree Nation survivors reveal anger at RCMP timeline of Myles Sanderson rampage

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan stabbings: RCMP reveal timeline of killing spree on James Smith Cree Nation'
Saskatchewan stabbings: RCMP reveal timeline of killing spree on James Smith Cree Nation
WATCH: Saskatchewan RCMP laid out a preliminary timeline on Thursday of the James Smith Cree Nation mass stabbings that occurred last September. Kabi Moulitharan reports. – Apr 27, 2023

As the details surrounding the death of Damien Sanderson were revealed for the first time, his wife Skye stormed out of a meeting between RCMP officers and James Smith Cree Nation (JSCN).

Saskatchewan RCMP on Wednesday gathered survivors, family members and victims of the stabbings that devastated the province on Sept. 4, 2022, to inform them of the preliminary timeline of events of  Myles Sanderson’s rampage, which left 11 dead and 17 injured in the area, as well as the nearby community of Weldon.

The three-hour meeting revealed that Damien Sanderson was the first victim of his brother Myles, as well as the scope and horror that Myles inflicted on his own community: he returned to one murder scene, to kill a woman who had arrived to help, and during altercations, he bragged about how many people he’d already killed.

For many, hearing the details of exactly what happened brought closure and a sense of relief. For others, it brought anger.

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“I walked out because I was angry. Because I was right all along about my husband,” Skye Sanderson tells Global News.

It has taken more than seven months for RCMP investigators to gather the evidence necessary to build a timeline of exactly what happened that day. Investigators completed 257 witness interviews in order to establish the timeline.

That information will be released to the public on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Global News will be streaming the four-hour presentation live.

Between 150 and 200 JSCN members gathered to hear the information in a three-hour closed meeting. Several survivors and victims spoke to Global News afterward.

Damien and Skye Sanderson celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary days before the Saskatchewan stabbings. Supplied

For Skye Sanderson, it meant vindication. While Damien Sanderson was considered a suspect, along with his brother, in early RCMP reports, Skye has long maintained that her husband had been killed by his brother and that he hadn’t been involved in the murders. While the RCMP absolved Damien of his alleged role in the murders following a Global News report, Skye said learning he was the first to die has been particularly painful.

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How the murders unfolded

RCMP confirmed on Thursday that Myles travelled to JSCN on Sept. 1. Vanessa Burns, Myles Sanderson’s former common-law spouse, had earlier told Global News that she had travelled there with him because he had asked her to help him sell drugs.

Speaking to Global News, Vanessa said she found it difficult to learn that after Sanderson severely assaulted her and she fled back to her home in Saskatoon on Sept. 4, other people joined him to help him commit assaults around the community. She was distressed to hear that Damien and Myles were joined by a female, who was helping them sell drugs.

“The guys were scared of him … I just felt sick hearing that. I was just worried that Myles was spilling my secrets and talking to people about me. I heard he was really mad,” Vanessa says.

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“It was pretty hard.”

The RCMP say the first assault committed by Myles and Damien involved a male in the early hours of Sept. 3, and that it was likely drug-related. Afterward, at about 4 a.m., Skye Sanderson called RCMP to report that Damien and Myles had stolen her car and that they were likely drunk. RCMP dispatched officers to JSCN and returned the car to Skye. They were aware Damien had an outstanding arrest warrant and attempted to locate him, but Damien gave officers a different name, and the picture on his arrest warrant was outdated.

Click to play video: 'Families, criminal files reveal new details about SK mass stabbing suspects'
Families, criminal files reveal new details about SK mass stabbing suspects

At about 5 p.m. on Sept. 3, Myles and Damien went to a JSCN member’s house, where Myles said he was looking for “one body – Gregory Burns.” Gregory was invited to the home and assaulted.

Shortly after, Damien and Myles separated for several hours. Damien went to Kinistino Bar, where he told patrons that he and Myles “have a mission to do” and “people would hear all about it in the next few hours.”

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Before midnight, he returned to JSCN and met up with Myles. Another assault was committed shortly after.

After stealing a grey van, Myles and Damien went to another community member’s house, where they were said to be “guzzling booze” and pumping themselves up for something.” This was the beginning of the stabbing spree, RCMP say.

While Damien had seemingly been involved in the planning of the murders, Skye says she does not believe he would have gone through with it.

Skye believes she was intended to be the first victim. According to the timeline of events, her house was the first place the brothers visited when they began their rampage, she says. He told her children it was “the last time they will ever see him.” But she believes shortly after, Damien had a “change of heart.”

“I think the assaults that happened earlier were Damien’s revenge, but I think Myles really wanted to get me.”

Damien and Skye Sanderson, pictured with their three children. Supplied

After Damien and Myles left Skye’s house, they went to the address of a male which the RCMP did not identify by name. Martin Moostoos earlier told Global News that the brothers showed up at his house around 5 a.m. and that Myles had kicked the door open.

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“He punched me and then got some scissors and held them to my neck,” Martin says.

That’s when Damien fought his brother off, Martin says, and removed Myles from the house. Outside, they were fighting. Martin was left with stab wounds on his chest and neck inflicted by the scissors.

“If it wasn’t for Damien, I would’ve been dead. He saved my life.”

Damien Sanderson the first to die

Before he left Martin’s house, Myles took a knife. Martin called RCMP to report the attack at 5:40 a.m., despite being warned by Damien not to. This was the first call the RCMP received.

Shortly after fleeing the scene, Damien and Myles got into an altercation inside the stolen vehicle. RCMP believe Damien was trying to escape an attack by Myles when he was killed.

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Damien’s body was not discovered until the next morning.

Skye continues to argue that if the RCMP had fought harder to find the brothers the day before when she called them to report that they had stolen her car, the tragedy could have been avoided.

“Everything that me and my kids went through, the hate, the messages that we got and the kids got at school, over and over, them saying my husband was a suspect and my son finding out about his dad dying on Tiktok … it hurts to hear that they had no indication that Myles and Damien were going to do this.”

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan stabbings: Damien Sanderson now considered a homicide victim, RCMP say'
Saskatchewan stabbings: Damien Sanderson now considered a homicide victim, RCMP say

After Myles had killed Damien, he travelled to another house where Robert Sanderson was killed and another adult male was injured. Myles left there on foot and went to another address, where he killed Christian and Lana Head and injured two other adults. He left in Christian’s truck.

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He attacked two more people at another address, who managed to flee. As they did so, they took the keys to the truck Myles was driving, leaving Myles to continue on foot.

He then went to another address, where he attacked Gregory Burns, Bonnie Burns and two other youths. When he left, Gregory was dead, but Bonnie was still alive.

He then stole another vehicle before travelling to Earl and Joyce’s Burns’ house – his partner Vanessa’s parents – attacking them both. Earl died while chasing Myles down the road in his school bus.

Myles then went to another house where he killed Carol and Thomas Burns and two other adults. Thomas had managed to make it outside, where Myles hit him with a vehicle, got out of the vehicle, and then attacked him a second time. He left that address on foot.

After attacking more people at other addresses, in blood-soaked clothes Myles stole another car, abandoned it and then returned to Gregory and Bonnie Burns’ house. By that time, Lydia Gloria Burns had arrived to help her friend Bonnie. Myles killed them both.

He then stole a cellphone and a black Nissan Rogue and fled the community, before heading to Kinistino and Weldon, where he killed 78-year-old pensioner Wesley Petterson.

Myles Sanderson evaded police for three days before police cruisers shunted his car off the road and into a ditch shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 7.

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The timeline of events did not deal with the death of Myles Sanderson in police custody.

'We got our facts wrong'

Many survivors say they were surprised at how Sanderson was able to travel across the small community for more than an hour on a stabbing rampage unimpeded before he fled alone. Others say they were relieved because it had cleared up months of rumours and speculation.

“I was feeling all kinds of emotions, listening to all that,” says Vanessa Burns.

“We’ve been waiting so long to hear about what happened. And we got our facts wrong because we speculated that he was at other people’s houses, thinking we knew what happened.”

Vanessa Burns, pictured in her brother’s house at James Smith Cree Nation, six weeks after the murders. Ashleigh Stewart

In the aftermath of the Sept. 4 attacks, Burns spoke exclusively with Global News to reveal that she was with Sanderson the weekend before the attacks when they were selling drugs around the JSCN community. Listening to the police recount that information, knowing she was involved, had been “triggering,” she said.

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“I was pretty disgusted. I just felt so angry at Myles yesterday. Just hearing everything. We were all breaking down,” she says.

She says while Joyce Burns is recovering from her physical injuries, she has taken the information “really hard.” She was “different than she was before,” but she believed the new information had brought them closure.

She said too much of the conversation had centred around drug problems in the community when they needed to focus on the “other factors.”

“Everyone’s just trying to blame someone. They don’t want to deal with intergenerational trauma, they just want to blame drugs. They don’t want to go to the root cause of the addictions.”

'We didn't get all the answers'

Another JSCN member who was injured in the attacks, who Global News agreed not to name, said they were told Myles had crossed the community several times on his rampage. He had visited several locations more than once and returned to at least one murder scene to kill more people.

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He said Myles had entered his house and demanded car keys from his mother. When she went to get them for him from her bedroom, he began stabbing her anyway. The man was stabbed several times trying to save his mother.

Click to play video: 'EXCLUSIVE: Saskatchewan stabbing suspect’s wife says she called RCMP 24 hours before murders'
EXCLUSIVE: Saskatchewan stabbing suspect’s wife says she called RCMP 24 hours before murders

He said several community members had reacted angrily to the RCMP, asking why they had taken so long to arrive.

The first report of a stabbing at JSCN came into the RCMP’s Melfort detachment, about 45 kilometres away, at 5:40 a.m. They arrived at 6:18 a.m.

“It was an emotional day. It brought back a lot of memories,” the man said.

“Most of our questions were answered, but some of them were deflected because of the coroner’s inquest. At least we got this information now instead of next year.”

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James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns speaks during a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations event where leaders provide statements about the mass stabbing incident that happened at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Sask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu.

Speaking after the community meeting on Wednesday, Chief Wally Burns told Global News a lot of the information the RCMP provided surprised the community, especially that Myles Sanderson had unleashed such a prolonged attack on his own.

“It was a very emotional day for everyone. A lot of people had a lot of questions, and we didn’t get all the answers. I’m just trying to be calm and be there for my people,” he said.

“I would like to thank the families, from the bottom of my heart, who came out and asked questions. I’m not better than anybody. We are all equal.”

Burns said the community would now be focused on healing from the tragedy, as well as pushing forward on their request for their own tribal police service.

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He is adamant that Indigenous policing would have helped prevent the attacks and will prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

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