February 28th, 2024

Inquest hears killer acted on grievances, planned Saskatchewan massacre

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

Family of Earl Burns Deborah Burns, left to right, daughters Vanessa Burns and Joyce Burns, wife, hold a photograph of Earl following a Saskatchewan RCMP preliminary timeline presentation of the events during a media event in Melfort, Sask. Thursday, April 27, 2023. A coroner’s inquest into a mass killing on a Saskatchewan First Nation is set to wrap up its first week of evidence today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

MELFORT, Sask. – Myles Sanderson had a list of grievances and was ready to kill anyone who got in his way, a coroner’s inquest into a Saskatchewan mass stabbing heard Friday.

Experts testified there was likely a reason the killer chose each of his targets.

“His mission was to attack, injure and murder those who he had a grievance against,” said Staff Sgt. Carl Sesely, a criminal profiler with the RCMP.

“Simple as that.”

Sanderson killed 11 people and injured 17 others on James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, Sask., northeast of Saskatoon, on Sept. 4, 2022.

The 32-year-old died in police custody a few days later. A second inquest focusing on his death is scheduled for February.

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

Criminal investigative psychologist Matt Logan never met Sanderson and said he cannot make an official diagnosis. He relied on court and prison records, as well as community members.

Logan said Sanderson had many psychopathic traits.

“You’ve got somebody that’s really not looking out for anybody but himself,” Logan said.

Sanderson showed signs he was lacking in remorse, had a reckless disregard for himself and others, and would explode in unpredictable and violent outbursts.

Logan said the killer likely also had anti-social personality disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Sanderson had a high risk to reoffend violently, he added.

The inquest has heard Sanderson had a history of violence and incarceration. A jury heard emotional testimony Thursday from his common-law partner, Vanessa Burns, who recounted 14 years of domestic violence by the father of her five children.

The inquest heard Sanderson and his brother, Damien Sanderson, caused chaos in the community in the days leading up to the killings.

The inquest heard Myles Sanderson hadn’t slept in days and had expressed rage toward the Terror Squad, a gang with a presence in Saskatchewan.

Logan said he could not discern why Sanderson was so angry at the gang, but “revenge is a strong motivator.”

Damien Sanderson’s wife testified Thursday that her husband feared his brother and had called him the devil.

Skye Sanderson said she called 911 the day before the stabbings, saying her husband had taken her vehicle without permission.

While officers located the vehicle, they didn’t find Damien Sanderson because he gave a false name and didn’t look like an old photo police had of him.

Skye Sanderson said during that this time, her husband was also sending her fatalistic text messages about death and missions with his brother.

Sesely said he believes Damien Sanderson was pulled into the situation by his brother. But when Damien Sanderson saw his brother stab someone, the fantasy he had built “crashed and burned,” so he stopped the first attack.

Damien Sanderson was the first to be killed and Sesely said it was because he got in his brother’s way.

Myles Sanderson then went throughout the community, armed with a knife, attacking people.

Sesely said many were attacked because Sanderson believed they were associated with Terror Squad.

The inquest heard Sanderson killed Bonnie Burns and Lydia Gloria Burns because they were trying to provide medical help to Gregory Burns, who the killer believed was associated with a gang.

He killed Vanessa Burns’ father, Earl Burns Sr., and Skye Sanderson’s father, Christian Head, because he was angry at both women.

He also injured one woman he thought might call the police. Wes Petterson, who was the only person killed in Weldon, didn’t know Sanderson and was likely attacked because he wouldn’t give up his vehicle keys, the experts said.

The inquest heard that Sanderson went to other homes where he left the residents unharmed. Sesely said that means he wasn’t trying to “increase the body count,” but had intended targets.

Sesely said he believes Sanderson intended to keep killing and his target was Vanessa Burns. He died in custody before he could fulfil that goal.

Burns said Friday the testimony about Sanderson has been difficult, but also provided some insight into his behaviour and its devastating impact on her family. She said she felt sorry for him.

“But I’m ready to move on with my life.”

Logan discussed the killer’s unstable childhood, noting Sanderson was bounced around different homes and suffered both physical and emotional abuse.

Sanderson had issues abusing alcohol by 13, and later would use cocaine and methamphetamine.

Logan said it’s likely Sanderson felt unwanted and abandoned in his childhood, which would be a trigger for violence in adulthood.

Sanderson dropped out of high school and never kept a job for very long.

He also had a lengthy criminal history, including 59 convictions as an adult. Sanderson was unlawfully at large at the time of the killings.

Earlier Friday, Mandy Maier, who works in communications with the Saskatchewan RCMP, told the inquest human error was behind an emergency alert with the wrong image of the killer.

The third dangerous person alert of the morning included photos it said were of Myles and Damien Sanderson. However, Maier said the communications unit was notified at about 9 a.m. that the photo of Myles Sanderson was of 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 have caused a delay.

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

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