WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Families of the 11 people fatally stabbed at the James Smith Cree Nation and village of Weldon in 2022 sat through a minute-by-minute summary of the killings Tuesday morning.
Many relatives and community members chose not to attend this week’s public inquest in the city of Melfort, Sask., but it was a difficult morning for many who did come to sit in the gallery. Coroner Blaine Beaven paused for a lunch break 20 minutes early Tuesday, citing the heavy, emotional toll the evidence was taking on many of the families.
“It brought back a lot of emotions, a lot of grief, sadness and a lot of anger,” Darryl Burns said during a break from the proceedings Tuesday. His sister Gloria Burns was killed in the attack on Sept. 4, 2022.
Evidence Tuesday included audio of frantic 911 calls, text messages and witness accounts describing each killing, and graphic crime scene photos.
Jurors, families and the public heard how killer Myles Sanderson drove, walked and ran to multiple homes raving about money, drugs or gang issues.
“Want to know how many bodies I got tonight?” he reportedly told one man before attacking him.
He kicked down doors and grabbed knives, scissors, a machete and other weapons to kill 11 people and wound 17 others.
The inquest heard how some were wounded or killed while trying to help the injured or stop Sanderson.
Brian (Buggy) Burns said he was thinking about his wife and son, who were both killed during the stabbings, while watching the inquest Tuesday.
“I wish I was home and protecting her.”
Just before the dead body of the first victim, his brother Damien Sanderson, was displayed on the four-metre wide screen in the small auditorium Tuesday, coroner counsel Timothy Hawryluk paused to warn the audience and allow them time to step outside or cover their eyes.
In the private rooms outside the main auditorium, mental health workers and elders provided support.
RCMP major crimes unit Staff Sgt. Robin Zentner, the only witness so far, is expected to continue testifying this afternoon.
Zentner outlined RCMP response times as well. From the initial call from one of the first victims, RCMP went to retrieve equipment from the Melfort detachment and departed for James Smith 16 minutes later. Their vehicle reached speeds exceeding 170 kilometres per hour, arriving at James Smith 22 minutes later.
“The complaint was taken extremely serious right off the get go,” Zentner said.
“They were traveling there as quickly as they possibly could.”
Zentner said the first two responding RCMP officers were trying to treat the wounded while also trying to find the person responsible. Things were happening quickly and Sanderson’s non-linear movements made it even more difficult to find him.
Most of the broad chronology from the was released previously by RCMP during a lengthy presentation in Melfort last spring.
On Monday, Zentner described how Myles and Damien (Myles’s brother and victim) interacted with several people on James Smith Cree Nation in the days leading up to the massacre. Zentner shared text messages sent by Damien that Zentner said gave police insight into the escalating violence and chaos.
The three-week inquest, scheduled to end on Feb. 2, is also supposed to honour the victims of the attack and allow the jurors a chance to provide recommendations to prevent similar tragedies from happening.
On Monday, the eight jurors were chosen — six who are tasked with making recommendations and two alternates — some of whom are Indigenous.
A total of 31 witnesses are expected to testify over the next two to three weeks and answer questions from the jurors and others who have “standing” at the inquest, including James Smith Cree Nation, relatives of the deceased, the RCMP, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Parole Board of Canada and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.
Support is available for people affected by this tragedy. The Hope for Wellness hotline offers immediate help to Indigenous people across Canada. Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential.
Talking Stick is a Saskatchewan-based free anonymous chat platform that connects people seeking emotional support to a trained Indigenous peer advocate 24/7.
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