Fear and grief are running high in a remote Indigenous community in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, after police said a search at James Smith Cree Nation did not locate the suspect in a deadly stabbing spree that left 10 people dead.
Shortly before noon local time (17:40 GMT) on Tuesday, Saskatchewan Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said they were responding to reports “of a possible sighting” of Myles Sanderson in James Smith Cree Nation and urged residents to seek shelter.
A few hours later, police said their investigation had determined the suspect “is not located in the community”.
“The RCMP continues to search for Myles Sanderson. As his whereabouts remain unknown, the emergency alert is active for the entire province and we continue to urge the public to take appropriate precautions,” they said in a statement.
Authorities have been searching for the 30-year-old for days, after a string of stabbings on Sunday left 10 people dead and injured 18 others in James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby village of Weldon, about 320km (200 miles) north of the provincial capital, Regina.
Canadian media reported a heavy police presence in the Indigenous community on Tuesday, as residents sheltered at home and were told to use caution if anyone came to the door. Authorities had earlier said Myles Sanderson should be considered “armed and dangerous”.
“It’s important that everyone continue to follow the instructions from local authorities,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a news conference in Vancouver, pledging his government’s support for people in Saskatchewan.
“We’re going to continue to be there while people grieve, while people heal, but right now, while they’re also very fearful,” he said.
Authorities have not released a motive for the fatal attacks, one of the worst incidents of mass violence in Canada’s history and one that has spurred an outpouring of grief across the country, especially in Indigenous communities.
In a statement late on Monday, Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents 74 First Nations in the province, asked “all of the people of Saskatchewan to share any relevant information you may have” to locate the suspect.
“We beg you to come forward for the sake of the families and communities,” Cameron said.
“The uncertainty continues to cause immeasurable stress and panic among our families, friends, and neighbours. They have already gone through enough. We must do everything we can to help end this tragedy without any more loss of life.”
The second suspect in the stabbings, Myles Sanderson’s brother, 31-year-old Damien Sanderson, was found dead on Monday in James Smith Cree Nation.
Saskatchewan RCMP officials told reporters that his body was found “outdoors in a heavily grassed area” and had signs of injuries “not believed to be self-inflicted”.
Police said Myles Sanderson is believed to have been injured and could seek medical attention.
“Myles is still at large and still considered to be armed and dangerous,” Regina Police Service Chief Evan Bray said in a video posted on social media late on Monday. Bray urged members of the public to report any information “that could bring a swift resolution to this situation”.
Myles Sanderson faces three counts of first-degree murder, as well as charges of attempted murder and breaking and entering.
Some community members and Indigenous leaders have said the violence is the result of drug abuse.
“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 of FSIN said on Sunday.
That was echoed by Ivor Wayne Burns, a resident of James Smith Cree Nation, who told the Reuters news agency that his sister Gloria Lydia Burns was killed when she answered an emergency call.
“This tragedy that happened here on our land, it’s all because of drugs and alcohol,” Burns said. “The drug problem we have here is rampant. It’s gone out of control.”
Canadian media outlets have reported that Myles Sanderson had a two-decade-long criminal record, and many of his crimes were carried out when he was intoxicated.
In May, he was listed as “unlawfully at large” after he stopped meeting with his parole officer following a statutory release from prison, CBC News said.
Citing a Parole Board of Canada document, The Canadian Press news agency also reported that Myles Sanderson had a violence-filled childhood, which led to a “cycle of substance abuse, seeking out negative peers and violent behaviour”.
“You can be easily angered when drunk, but are a different person when sober,” the parole board’s decision said.
James Smith Cree Nation, a small Indigenous community home to approximately 1,900 people who live on the reserve, has asked for privacy and declared a state of emergency following the attacks.
“I lost alot [sic] of family yesterday, bodies every where [sic] … It was a war zone,” Michael Brett Burns, whose former partner, mother of two Lana Head, was among those killed in the community, wrote in a Facebook post.
“My family, my friends prayers for all whom were affected by this horrible crime. God bless the ones who left us and protect our homes.”