‘Very high emotions’ as inquest into 2022 mass killings hears autopsy reports

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix 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.

Warning: This story contains disturbing details and descriptions of violence some readers may find upsetting.

Julia Peterson

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

MELFORT — Myles Sanderson’s victims died quickly.

Over two days of testimony from the forensic pathologists who performed the autopsies after the mass stabbing spree, family members heard the clinical details of how their loved ones died in the bloody, violent attacks.

On Thursday morning, coroner’s counsel Timothy Hawryluk posed questions that had weighed on the inquest: “Could an ambulance have rushed out to James Smith (Cree Nation) and saved any of those victims? Would there have been time for that?”

Forensic pathologist Dr. Derek Musgrove answered in the negative — not even if ambulances had arrived impossibly quickly, and made equally good time on the way back.

“I believe it is unlikely, unfortunately, that these decedents would have lived,” Musgrove said.

The same was true for the final victim, Wesley Petterson, who was killed outside his home in the village of Weldon.

“He could not have survived,” chief forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham testified on Friday morning. “There was nothing they could have done for him.”

Ladham also spoke about the death of Earl Burns Sr., who got into his school bus and gave chase after Sanderson attacked him.

RCMP later noticed the bus idling in a ditch, but passed it four separate times before anyone found Earl’s body. Ladham said he was stabbed 14 separate times, but the weapon managed to miss major blood vessels.

“That’s why he was able to move around,” Ladham said. “(Some) people can just continue on, until they get overwhelmed by blood loss.”

By the time Earl was forced to stop driving, he would have been beyond help, Ladham said.

“We’re not talking any time that would have given EMS time to get there and save him. His body, with all that stress, would have rapidly shut down and died.”

Even if an RCMP officer had stopped and checked the bus sooner, Ladham says “there wouldn’t have been any treatment that they could have given him.”

Musgrove and Ladham told the inquest anderson’s victims were stabbed in the head, neck or chest; many were stabbed multiple times. These types of wounds bleed a lot because there are so many major blood vessels and vital organs in those areas. The stress and fear people would have felt, and anything that raised their heart rate as they tried to defend themselves or flee, would also have made them bleed more quickly.

Most would have died within minutes, the inquest heard.

The one possible exception was Damien Sanderson, the first person his brother killed that morning.

With multiple stab wounds to the chest, he escaped from the car Myles was driving and fled into the bushes by the side of the road, where he was hidden from sight. His body wasn’t found until the next day.

Though it was highly unlikely paramedics could have saved Damien even if they got there immediately, because of the nature of his wounds, he could have taken up to an hour to die, Musgrove said.

The testimony was difficult to hear, but wellness workers from James Smith Cree Nation said it brought some clarity and healing.

“We’ve certainly had some very high emotions over the last couple of days,” said wellness worker Cindy Ghostkeeper-Whitehead. “But through family members supporting each other, and us providing support, we get through it.”