JAMES SMITH CREE NATION, Saskatchewan (Reuters) -Police laid murder charges on Monday against two men who were at large and suspected of killing 10 people in a stabbing rampage that devastated an indigenous community in Canada, a nation where mass violence is rare.
Police launched a manhunt for Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30, after they allegedly stabbed people in 13 different areas across an indigenous community and its surrounding province on Sunday. At least 18 others were wounded.
The attacks in Saskatchewan province were among the deadliest in Canada’s modern history. A statement by indigenous leaders indicated they may have been drug-related. Police said some of the victims appeared to have been targeted, while others were apparently random. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3cKaBP0)
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) charged the men each with first-degree murder, attempted murder and break-and-enter. In a statement, RCMP said they expected to lay more charges as the investigation continued.
“To the people of Saskatchewan and beyond – please be assured that we are using every human, investigational and technological resource we have available to locate and arrest the persons responsible for this tragedy and to ensure your safety,” said Saskatchewan RCMP Commanding Officer Rhonda Blackmore. Hundreds of police and staff were dedicated to the investigation, she said.
The accused were last seen traveling in a black Nissan (OTC:) Rogue and spotted on Sunday in the city of Regina, about 320 km (200 miles) south of the attacks in the James Smith Cree (NYSE:) Nation and the village of Weldon, police said.
“We are confident someone out there knows the whereabouts of these two and has information that will be valuable to the police and I urge you to get in touch with your local police,” Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said.
CBC News reported that police in the Saskatchewan city of Saskatoon had been searching for Myles Sanderson since May, when he stopped meeting his parole officer after serving a sentence for assault, robbery, mischief and uttering threats.
Doreen Lees, 89, said she and her daughter were sitting on their porch in Weldon on Sunday morning when a dark SUV sped past, an unusual sight in the small village.
Shortly after, a man approached them saying he was hurt, Lees said, adding that he stood around 10 feet away and had his face covered. Her daughter ran inside to call police. But then the man took off, she said.
“At the time the person didn’t make us feel nervous. We just thought he was hurt and he needed some help,” Lees said. “But he didn’t stop and wait for the help, then we wondered ‘What is going on here?'”
Indigenous people account for less than 5% of Canada’s population of about 38 million and suffer from higher levels of poverty and unemployment than other Canadians and also have a shorter life expectancy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had been in direct communication with the James Smith Cree Nation leadership, adding, “we are ready to assist in any way we can.” Trudeau said the flag atop Ottawa’s Peace Tower would fly at half-staff to honor the victims.
“I do not recall anything of this magnitude with knives,” said Darryl Davies, a criminology professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University who grew up in Saskatchewan. “It does show us that the nature of violence in Canada is shifting.”
The biggest challenge for police now may be that the killers appear to have been well-organized, suggesting they also had an escape plan in mind, Davies said.
James Smith Cree Nation is an indigenous community with a population of about 3,400 people largely engaged in farming, hunting and fishing. Weldon is a village of some 200 people.
Chief Robert Head of Peter Chapman Band, one of three bands that make up James Smith, posted online photos of meetings on Monday among indigenous leaders, police and the provincial government.
“We are going to be safe,” he said.
Residents of Weldon identified 77-year-old Wes Petterson, a widower, as one of the victims of the stabbing. Lana Head, a mother of two, had also been killed, her former partner said.
The two accused share the same last name but it was not clear if they are related or come from the same community.
Police bulletins urged people to take precautions including sheltering in place, while warning against picking up hitchhikers or approaching suspicious people.
“Do not leave a secure location. Use caution allowing others into your residence,” one advisory said.