Canadian police searched on Monday for two men suspected of stabbing 10 people to death in an Indigenous community and a nearby town, as the massive manhunt following one of the nation’s deadliest mass killings entered its second day.
Authorities have said some of the victims were targeted and others appeared to have been chosen at random in a series of attacks on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the town of Weldon in Saskatchewan province. They have given no motive for the crimes, which also left 15 people wounded — but a senior Indigenous leader suggested drugs were somehow involved.
Police believe the suspects were last spotted around midday on Sunday in the provincial capital of Regina, about 335 kilometers (210 miles) south of where the stabbings happened. Authorities have warned the three vast prairie provinces of central Canada — which also includes Manitoba and Alberta — to be on alert, and U.S. border officials have been contacted.
With the suspects at large, fear continued to grip communities in the rural, working class area of Saskatchewan surrounded by farmland that were terrorized by the crimes. One witness who said he lost family members described seeing people with bloody wounds scattered throughout the Indigenous reserve.
"No one in this town is ever going to sleep again. They’re going to be terrified to open their door," said Ruby Works, who also lost someone close to her and is a resident of Weldon, which has a population of about 200 and is home to many retirees.
The suspects were identified as Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30, but police gave few details about them. Last May, Saskatchewan Crime Stoppers issued a wanted list that included Myles Sanderson, writing that he was "unlawfully at large."
The attack was among the deadliest mass killings in Canada, where such crimes are less common than in the United States. The deadliest gun rampage in Canadian history happened in 2020, when a man disguised as a police officer shot people in their homes and set fires across the province of Nova Scotia, killing 22 people. In 2019, a man used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto.
Deadly mass stabbings are rarer than mass shootings, but have happened around the world. In 2014, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in China’s southwestern city of Kunming. In 2016, a mass stabbing at a facility for the mentally disabled in Sagamihara, Japan, left 19 people dead. A year later, three men killed eight people in a vehicle and stabbing attack at London Bridge.
"It is horrific what has occurred in our province," said Rhonda Blackmore, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saskatchewan.
Police got their first call about a stabbing at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday, and within minutes heard about several more. In all, dead or wounded people were found at 13 different locations on the sparsely populated reserve and in the town, Blackmore said. James Smith Cree Nation is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Weldon.
She couldn’t provide a motive, but the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations suggested the stabbings could be drug-related.
"This is the destruction we face when harmful illegal drugs invade our communities, and we demand all authorities to take direction from the chiefs and councils and their membership to create safer and healthier communities for our people," said Chief Bobby Cameron.
As the manhunt stretched on while Canadians observed the Labor Day holiday, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray urged anyone with information to come forward.
"They have not been located, so efforts continue," Bray said in a video posted on Twitter on Monday morning. "We will not stop until we have those two safely in custody."
The night before, he said police believed the suspects were still in Regina but didn't say why.
The elected leaders of the three communities that make up the James Smith Cree Nation declared a local state of emergency.
Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson — who apparently is not related to the suspects — said everyone has been affected by the tragic events.
"They were our relatives, friends," Sanderson said of the victims. "It’s pretty horrific."
Among the 10 killed was Lana Head, who is the former partner of Michael Brett Burns and the mother of their two daughters.
"It’s sick how jail time, drugs and alcohol can destroy many lives," Burns told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. "I’m hurt for all this loss."
Burns later posted on Facebook that there were dead and wounded people everywhere on the reserve, making it look like "a war zone."
"The look in their eyes couldn’t express the pain and suffering for all those who were assaulted," he posted.
Doreen Lees, an 89-year grandmother from Weldon, said she and her daughter thought they saw one of the suspects when a car came barreling down her street early Sunday as her daughter was having 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 after her daughter said she would call for help.
"He wouldn’t show his face. He had a big jacket over his face. We asked his name and he kind of mumbled his name twice and we still couldn’t get it," she said. "He said his face was injured so bad he couldn’t show it."
She said she began to follow him because she was concerned about him, but her daughter told her to come back to the house.
Weldon residents have identified one of the dead as Wes Petterson. Works said the 77-year-old widower was like an uncle to her.
"I collapsed and hit the ground. I’ve known him since I was just a little girl,″ she said, describing the moment she heard the news. She said he loved his cats, was proud of his homemade Saskatoon berry jam and frequently helped out his neighbors.
"He didn’t do anything. He didn’t deserve this. He was a good, kind hearted man,″ said Works.
Weldon resident Robert Rush described the victim as gentle.
"He wouldn’t hurt a fly," he said.
Rush said Petterson’s adult grandson was in the basement when the suspects entered the home, and he phoned police.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the flag above Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa would be flown at half-staff to honor the victims.
"As Canadians, we mourn with everyone affected by this tragic violence, and with the people of Saskatchewan," Trudeau said.