A stabbing rampage on a Saskatchewan First Nation and a nearby village left 10 people dead and 15 others injured, provincial RCMP said Sunday as officers continued to search for two suspects.
“We believe some of the victims have been targeted by the suspects and others have been attacked randomly,” Rhonda Blackmore, the assistant commissioner in charge of Saskatchewan RCMP, told reporters in Regina.
“It is horrific what has occurred in our province today.”
Blackmore said the 15 injured were taken to hospital but there may be more who sought medical help on their own.
The attacks took place at 13 different locations on the James Smith Cree Nation and nearby Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon, she said.
She declined to comment on how officers know some of the victims were targeted, saying that remains part of the investigation.
Blackmore said police began receiving reports before 6 a.m. of stabbings on the First Nation. More reports of attacks quickly followed and by midday police issued a warning that a vehicle reportedly carrying the two suspects had been spotted in Regina.
Officers began scouring the city and security was boosted at Mosaic Stadium, as thousands of fans descended on the city for a sold out annual Labour Day game between the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
A dangerous persons alert for Damien Sanderson, 31, and Myles Sanderson, 30, was also in effect from Alberta to Manitoba.
“If Damien and Myles are listening, or receive this information, I would ask that they turn themselves in to police immediately,” said Blackmore.
“They’re considered armed and dangerous … at this point we don’t know if they have changed vehicles since this morning. Their location and direction of travel is unknown.”
Damien Sanderson is described as five-feet-seven inches tall and 155 pounds, and Myles Sanderson as six-foot-one and 200 pounds. Both have black hair and brown eyes and may be driving a black Nissan Rogue with licence plate 119 MPI.
Weldon residents have identified one of the victims as Wes Petterson.
Ruby 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 neighbours.
“He didn’t do anything. He didn’t deserve this. He was a good, kind-hearted man,” said Works.
She said the event has shaken a community where the sounds of sirens are rarely heard.
“No one in this town is ever going to sleep again. They’re going to be terrified to open their door,” she said.
Weldon resident Robert Rush also described the victim as a gentle, widowed man in his 70s.
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he said.
Rush said Petterson’s adult grandson was in the basement at the time and phoned police.
“He stayed down there until they were gone.”
Rush said people in Weldon believe the suspects left the village. Later Sunday, he drove to Prince Albert to buy a cake for his wife’s birthday and left his granddaughter at home.
“I gave her two guns and a bat,” Rush said.
At the Weldon Christian Tabernacle Church the congregation began their regular Sunday service by saying a special prayer to the victims and their families.
At the James Smith Cree Nation, a convenience store that also serves as a gas station became a gathering place for community members, who greeted each other with tears and hugs.
A sign on the door said: “Due to safety concerns with our community we will remain closed until further notice.”
The elected leaders of the three communities that make up the James Smith Cree Nation, including the Chakastaypasin Band and the Peter Chapman Band, declared a local state of emergency.
Chakastaypasin Chief Calvin Sanderson said he’d left his phone off on Sunday morning and only learned of the tragic events when community members came to his door to check on him.
Everyone’s been affected, he said.
“They were our relatives, friends. Mostly we’re all related here, so it’s pretty hard,” Sanderson said.
“It’s pretty horrific.”
The emergency declaration, which was released by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations or FSIN, said two emergency operations centres have been set up.
Although RCMP did not release details about a motive, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in the release that drugs were a possibility.
“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,” Cameron said. He didn’t elaborate on the statement.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said multiple patients were being treated at several sites.
“A call for additional staff was issued to respond to the influx of casualties,” authority spokeswoman Anne Linemann said in an email.
Mark Oddan, a spokesman with STARS Air Ambulance, said two helicopters were dispatched from Saskatoon and another from Regina.
He said two carried patients to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, while the third carried a patient to Royal University from a hospital in Melfort, a short distance southeast of Weldon.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe responded to the tragedy on Twitter.
“I want to offer my deepest condolences on behalf of the government and people of Saskatchewan to all of the family and friends of the victims of today’s horrific attacks.”
His office later said flags at provincial government buildings will be lowered to half-mast one day for each person killed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued a statement responding to the rampage.
“I am shocked and devastated by the horrific attacks today in James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Saskatchewan, that claimed the lives of 10 people and injured many more,” said Trudeau.
“As Canadians, we mourn with everyone affected by this tragic violence, and with the people of Saskatchewan. We also wish a full and quick recovery to those injured.”
— With files from Rob Drinkwater and Daniela Germano in Edmonton