Coroner’s inquest into James Smith Cree Nation, Weldon mass killing begins day 2 with summary of events

The public inquest into the mass stabbing at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon in 2022 was set for two weeks in January 2024. When RCMP on April 27, 2023 outlined what happened during the stabbing rampage, photos of the victims were on display with candles on stage. -- Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Julia Peterson

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Editor’s Note: This story contains disturbing details and descriptions of violence some readers may find upsetting.

MELFORT — Stories of horror and also incredible courage brought people to tears at the second day of a coroner’s inquest into a 2022 mass killing in Saskatchewan.

The inquest on Tuesday heard a focused timeline, audio from 911 calls and testimony from RCMP providing further insight into the events of Sept. 4, 2022 on James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, when Myles Sanderson killed 11 people and injured 17 others during a stabbing rampage.

Community members at the inquest watched closely — some hugging and crying — as a video showed a rapid-fire account of where he went during those chaotic few hours.

Many survivors and witnesses couldn’t call RCMP right away as they fled to safety, helped others or treated their own injuries, Saskatchewan RCMP Staff Sgt. Robin Zentner said.

Minutes before the attack began

At 5:30 a.m., Damien Sanderson’s teenage daughter Cora was at home with her little sister when Damien and Myles kicked open the front door.

They were looking for her mom, Skye Sanderson. The brothers were cursing Skye’s name as they kicked in the master bedroom door and tossed the bed, trying unsuccessfully to find her.

Before Damien left the house, Cora said her dad kissed her on the head, told her he loved her, and said this would be the last time she would ever see him.

He was right.

He ‘started stabbing me’

At 5:40 a.m., Melfort RCMP got the first of 92 emergency calls they would receive about the stabbings.

Martin Moostoos was at home when he awoke to someone banging on the door. As he got out of bed, Myles kicked in the door — RCMP later identified the print of his shoe left behind — and started attacking, stabbing Moostoos with a pair of scissors found on the counter.

When the scissors broke, Myles grabbed a black-handled knife.

Damien Sanderson stepped in between them, stopping the attack and trying to calm Myles down.

Moostoos fled back to his bedroom, but Damien stopped him from closing the door.

Moostoos remembers Damien telling him, “Don’t call the police” before the brothers left. Bleeding on the carpet, he called 911 before applying pressure to his wounds.

“Myles Sanderson broke into my house,” he told a dispatcher, asking for police to come to the house. “He pulled a knife on me and started stabbing me.”

‘Extremely serious’ RCMP response

Constables Tanner Maynard and David Miller of the Melfort RCMP were on call that morning. Melfort doesn’t have 24-hour policing; it took the officers about 15 minutes after the 911 call to get to the detachment, pack the equipment they needed and get on the road.

The police vehicle was driven down the highway at about 170 kilometres per hour — its maximum speed — lights flashing as it raced toward James Smith Cree Nation.

Under normal circumstances, the drive from Melfort to JSCN takes over 30 minutes. Maynard and Miller made it in 22.

“Upon their arrival, they immediately began an investigation into what was taking place while focusing on providing medical assistance and keeping the community safe,” Zentner said. “The complaint … was taken extremely serious, right off the get-go.”

Death of Damien Sanderson

In the immediate aftermath of the stabbings, both Damien and Myles Sanderson were suspects.

Martin Moostoos had seen them together at his house, and some other survivors and witnesses said Damien had been part of the attacks later in the day, though Zentner said RCMP have now determined that these witness reports, except for Martin Moostoos’s, were cases of mistaken identity.

“All of the actual attacks were perpetrated by Myles Sanderson,” Zentner clarified.

In fact, after leaving Moostoos’s house, the brothers fought.

According to Zentner, investigators believe Myles was angry that Damien had intervened during the attack.

As Myles drove away with Damien beside him in the front passenger seat, Myles attacked Damien with the knife.

Stabbed and bleeding, Damien got out of the vehicle and fled, dropping his bloodstained shirt on the road as he ran.

RCMP investigators found Damien’s shirt later that day, but didn’t investigate it right away. With so many people dead and injured, the RCMP’s forensic investigators were stretched thin and there simply wasn’t time, Zentner said.

With daylight fading, they had to prioritize. For the sake of the families, they didn’t want to leave the bodies in homes or lying outside any longer than they had to, he said.

A single bloody shirt seemed less urgent and had to wait.

Meanwhile, Damien’s body lay hidden in the bushes and tall grass by the road.

To explain why it took so long for his body to be discovered — it was found on Sept. 5 — Zentner showed the inquest two photographs RCMP took of the scene.

These are the only images of a body the RCMP intends to show the inquest.

“We really struggled about whether we should include any of these images,” Zentner said. “But we believe these are important … for people to understand. One of the questions that was asked early on was how could we not have found (Damien’s body)? How could we not have seen? … Some of these images demonstrate the terrain and the vegetation he was located in, and help explain how concealed he was.”

Once the RCMP found his body, they realized Damien was no longer one of their suspects. He was the first homicide victim.

‘Sense of panic’ increases

After killing Damien, Myles crashed his vehicle into house #10 on New York Road, right next to the door.

The crash woke Robert (Bobby) Sanderson and his son, Brandon Generaux, who had been asleep inside.

Myles kicked in the back door and stabbed Robert Sanderson to death.

He also stabbed Brandon Generaux, who survived and made a frantic 911 call.

“I’m bleeding,” he told the operator, breathless. “I’m bleeding right now.”

Zentner told the inquest that, as the morning unfolded and more and more 911 calls started coming in, the “sense of panic, that sense of urgency, was ever-increasing.”

At a house nearby, Haley Head-Sanderson was asleep on the couch.

Minutes after Robert Sanderson and Brandon Generaux were attacked, she woke up as she was stabbed by a man she didn’t recognize.

Others in the house intervened and were also attacked; Christian Head and Lana head were both killed.

Afterwards, Haley told RCMP she saw Myles drive away from the house in Christian’s pickup truck. He was heading back toward the village.

Witnesses heard screams, calls for help

The emergency calls kept coming.

Keenan Head and his girlfriend Chantelle Constant told RCMP they were asleep in their living room when Myles Sanderson kicked open their back door.

He immediately started stabbing Keenan, then attacked Chantelle. They both tried to get away as Myles followed.

When she got outside, Chantelle reached into the truck Myles had arrived in and took the keys, afraid he would use it to chase her and Keenan if he could.

Witnesses in the area heard Keenan screaming for help, and saw him covered in blood.

As Chantelle and Keenan fled to a neighbour’s house, Myles — once again without a working vehicle — walked to Bonnie and Gregory Burns’s house and broke in through the basement window.

When he did, Gregory and Galynn Burns were in the basement, Dayson Head Burns was in his bedroom, and Bonnie Burns was upstairs.

Myles first attacked Gregory and Galynn. When Bonnie heard the commotion and came downstairs, Myles stabbed her too, even as she protested that she “didn’t do anything.”

Dayson, who was woken by the screams, opened his bedroom door and was immediately stabbed in the chest.

Later, a witness who had been outside the house told RCMP he had heard Dayson screaming.

“Somebody help me,” Dayson had called out. “My mom’s going to die.”

Gregory Burns escaped the house but collapsed on the driveway, where he died.

‘About 10 bodies’

Kara Head said she hadn’t seen Myles Sanderson since the early hours of that morning, when he and Damien were at her place “guzzling booze” and “pumping themselves up,” and Myles had asked her for a knife — which she refused to give him.

He came back around 6 a.m., she told RCMP. His hand was bloody, he was carrying a black-handled knife with a long, curved blade, and he said something about “10 dead bodies,” she said.

He asked Kara for the keys to her vehicle, but walked away when she said no.

Next, Myles went down the street to Sarama Stonestand and Thorne Twist’s house and kicked the door open.

In his bloodstained clothes, warning Samara not to “make things harder than they already are,” he demanded the keys to her SUV.

She refused, but he grabbed them and left. Samara called the RCMP.

Myles was already driving back toward North Road.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566), Saskatoon Mobile Crisis (306-933-6200), Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit (306-764-1011), Regina Mobile Crisis Services (306-525-5333) or the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which provides culturally competent crisis intervention counselling support for Indigenous peoples (1-855-242-3310).