July 20th, 2024

‘Absolute organized chaos’: Mass stabbing inquest hears about emergency alert error

By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press on January 19, 2024.

MELFORT, Sask. – An RCMP employee told a coroner’s inquest human error was behind an emergency alert with the wrong image of the killer as Mounties responded to a massacre on a Saskatchewan First Nation.

“(It was) absolute organized chaos,” said Mandy Maier, who works in communications with the Saskatchewan RCMP.

The civilian RCMP employees who issue emergency alerts received a call at 6:26 a.m. on Sept. 4, 2022, that something bad was happening on the James Smith Cree Nation, Maier said Friday.

That morning, Myles Sanderson killed 11 people and injured 17 others on the First Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon.

The 32-year-old died in police custody a few days later.

RCMP issued the first dangerous person alert at 7:12 a.m. Maier said getting alerts out involves a lot of considerations during a “fast-paced incident as it’s unfolding.”

The third alert included photos and said the images were Sanderson and his brother, Damien Sanderson. However, Maier said the communications unit was notified at about 9 a.m. that the photo of Myles Sanderson was incorrect.

She said the photo shared in that alert was another person with the same name from the same community.

Maier said the photo was removed from the emergency alert website immediately. Another emergency alert with the correct photo was sent out by around 10 a.m., she said.

Keith Brown, the First Nation’s lawyer, asked Maier why the community would not be asked for images or confirmation of Sanderson’s identity.

“We think about how quickly this incident is unfolding and we use the information that we have at the time,” she said.

She said secondary conversations with members of the First Nation could cause a delay when time was of the essence.

The public has a lot of expectations around emergency alerts, Maier said, especially after the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia where RCMP were criticized for not issuing them soon enough.

The coroner’s inquest, which is taking place in Melfort, Sask., is wrapping up its first week of evidence. It’s scheduled for at least two weeks.

A jury heard emotional testimony Thursday from the common-law partner of the killer.

Vanessa Burns recounted 14 years of domestic violence at the hands of Myles Sanderson, the father of her five children.

Burns told the inquest Thursday that she and Sanderson went to the First Nation to sell drugs, but she drove back to Saskatoon after he attacked her.

The inquest heard that Myles and Damian Sanderson then caused chaos on the community in the days leading up to the killings, assaulting people and selling drugs.

Damien Sanderson’s wife, Skye Sanderson, also testified Thursday. She said her husband feared his brother and that he called him the devil.

She said the last time she saw her husband was when he left in her vehicle with his brother.

Skye Sanderson said she called 911 the day before the stabbings, saying her husband had taken her vehicle without permission. Damien Sanderson was wanted on outstanding warrants over domestic violence charges.

Officers had told the inquest they located the vehicle outside a home on the First Nation. One officer talked to Damien Sanderson, but he gave a false name and didn’t look like an old photo police had of him.

Skye Sanderson said during this time her husband was also sending her fatalistic text messages about death. She thought the brothers were going to get into trouble and she encouraged police to find them.

The inquest has also heard that Myles Sanderson first killed his brother.

He then went throughout the community, armed with a knife, attacking and stabbing people.

He killed both Vanessa Burns’ father, Earl Burns Sr., and Skye Sanderson’s father, Christian Head.

The inquest is to establish the events leading up to the killings, who died, and when and where each person was killed.

A second inquest focusing on Myles Sanderson’s death is scheduled for February.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2024.

Share this story:


Comments are closed.