The manhunt for the suspected culprit in the deadly Saskatchewan stabbing spree has ended, but the full story is yet to be told.
With Myles Sanderson having died in police custody, shortly after his arrest, and another suspect — his brother Damien — having been discovered dead on Monday, police have warned that some lingering questions about what happened on and around the James Smith Cree Nation may never be answered.
Here are some of the things we still don’t know in one of Canada’s bloodiest mass murder rampages.
How did Myles Sanderson die?
Shortly after he was arrested following a high-speed highway pursuit, video emerged of Sanderson, dressed in black pants and a maroon shirt, being placed under arrest. Surrounded by four RCMP officers, he was pressed up against a police vehicle, his arms twisted behind his back. Sanderson can be seen looking off to the right while one of the officers runs his hand down Sanderson’s right leg.
Following this, police said he was placed, alone, in the rear of a police vehicle and was being driven to the station when he went into “medical distress.”
Officers tried to revive Sanderson. Paramedics arrived and transported him by ambulance to a Saskatoon hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Police have said that Sanderson, 32, may have had an existing — as yet unidentified — injury. It was revealed that he broke into a vehicle in the nearby town of Weldon and stole a first aid kit, with the presumed goal of treating himself.
An autopsy will be conducted to confirm the cause of Sanderson’s death, while the Saskatoon Police Service has been called in to conduct an independent investigation into the actions of the arresting RCMP officers. The Serious Incident Response Team is also investigating.
What role did Damien Sanderson have in the killings?
Damien Sanderson, 31, Myles’s brother, is charged with murder in connection with the killings, but his role in the horrible saga has been questioned by those closest to him, and by family members of some of the stabbing victims.
On Facebook, the sister of a victim said she was told that only Myles Sanderson was involved in the attack. Several other people, none of whom responded to interview requests, wrote on Facebook that they had heard similar accounts from attacks that occurred at 13 different crime scenes.
“It was only Myles,” one woman wrote. “Damien was way too nice to be seen as a monster.”
“My daughter was there, and witnessed her boyfriend being stabbed,” another man wrote. “Myles was by himself.”
Another man, who identified himself on Facebook as the uncle of Damien’s wife, said there were reports that Damien was seen “jumping in front of Myles to stop him” from attacking another person.
“Think or say what you want,” he wrote. “Damien was a victim, not a monster.”
The mystery around Damien Sanderson’s role in the killings was heightened when police revealed on Monday — one day after the attacks occurred — that they had found his body in a grassy area in the vicinity of one of the crime scenes.
The cause of his death has not been identified, but police have said that his wounds were not self-inflicted, suggesting that he was killed rather than having taken his own life.
Asked Wednesday, police said they still consider him a suspect due to information they have gathered during the investigation indicating “both of them were involved.”
Where did Myles Sanderson hide during the four-day manhunt?
After the initial attacks on the James Smith Cree Nation, Myles Sanderson fled. One of the murder victims, Wesley Petterson, 78, was killed in Weldon, a village east of the reserve where most of the attacks occurred.
Shortly after, the RCMP issued an alert and set up checkpoints, while urging drivers in the area not to pick up hitchhikers.
Sometime after, there was an updated alert saying that the suspects had been spotted in Regina, 300 kilometres south of the James Smith Cree Nation, at 11:46 a.m. on Sunday, travelling in a black Nissan Rogue.
On Monday, after Damien Sanderson was discovered dead, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray addressed the media.
“The most recent reliable information we have says that he is in Regina, or was in Regina,” Bray said of Myles Sanderson.
“We are very confident that Myles was in the city yesterday. Up until two hours ago, we assumed it was both of them.”
On Tuesday afternoon, RCMP issued an updated alert — the eighth of the manhunt — warning that there had been sightings of Myles Sanderson on the territory of the James Smith Cree Nation and warned residents to seek shelter, not let others into their homes and not to approach Sanderson and not to give away police locations.
It’s not clear why Sanderson would return to the scene of his crimes, nor how it was that he could sneak back onto a reserve crawling with police investigators and not be apprehended.
That trail, like the ones before it, went cold.
The ninth police update said that an investigation has concluded Sanderson was not on the James Smith Cree Nation: “his whereabouts remain unknown.”
There was a long and unnerving silence that lasted until Wednesday afternoon.
An individual said to be armed with a knife was travelling in a 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche stolen from Wakaw, 100 kilometres southwest of the reserve.
“We believe this may be related to the Melfort dangerous person alert issued on Sept. 4,” the RCMP emergency alert said — Melfort being the RCMP detachment that responded on the morning of the deadly attacks.
The alert generated 20 calls from the public about sightings of the truck, which was ultimately intercepted driving south on Highway 11, south of Rosthern, Sask., a road that leads to Saskatoon.
Did Sanderson have accomplices?
If the sightings of Myles Sanderson and another individual in a black Nissan Rogue in Regina are borne out, this could suggest that he had the assistance of an accomplice while he was at large, which could potentially lead to criminal charges against another person.
Saskatchewan journalist Tammy Robert, writing for The Daily Beast, reported that Sanderson had travelled to Regina to make one last visit to associates in the provincial capital.
But the report, which cited sources close to the investigation, also predicted that Sanderson would have already taken his own life to avoid being captured.
“If Myles Sanderson was alive and being harboured somewhere by someone, we’d know about it by now,” one of the sources said.
The most difficult and most important question is the one that may never be answered.
Police have said that some of the stabbing attacks appeared to have a motivation, while others occurred at random.
One of the murder victims, Earl Burns Sr., was Myles Sanderson’s father-in-law, according to a CBC report that cited court records. In January 2015, Sanderson repeatedly stabbed Burns with a knife. Sanderson had a long criminal history, including charges of domestic violence involving Burns’s daughter.
But another victim, 61-year-old Lydia Gloria Burns, was an addiction and crisis counsellor who had responded to the frantic call for help of Bonnie Goodvoice-Burns — who was killed along with her husband’s 28-year-old son, Gregory Burns — when she was murdered.
Police admitted Wednesday that they have interviewed 120 witnesses are continuing their investigation, but may never be able to answer the ultimate question: why?
“Witnesses and those around him only have so much information,” said Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore on Wednesday. “His motivation may — at this time and forever — only be known to Myles.”
Allan Woods is a Montreal-based staff reporter for the Star. He covers global and national affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @WoodsAllan