The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) may never fully know why Myles Sanderson carried out a deadly stabbing rampage against a Saskatchewan First Nation, but they may be able to offer some answers. which, according to some experts, could help the families of the victims to understand all this.
RCMP on Thursday released a preliminary timeline of the Sept. 4 attacks on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, which killed 11 people and injured 17. They also said they were conducting an autopsy. psychological on Sanderson, who went into medical distress and died after being taken into police custody.
The psychological autopsy could help investigators understand why some people were attacked and others weren’t, Superintendent Joshua Graham told a news conference.
RCMP Behavioral Science Unit staff met with community members and Sanderson’s family as part of the process, Graham said, and a report is expected in several months.
Experts in the field say a psychological autopsy could provide answers to Sanderson’s thought and determine if substance use played a role.
It can also clear up confusion in the community.
“It’s entirely possible and likely that we won’t be able to get all the reasons, but I’m sure we will get some and we will get more,” said Antoon Leenaars, clinical and forensic psychologist in Windsor, Ontario, who wrote about psychological autopsies.
“For survivors, if they receive proper feedback, it can be very helpful and healing. »
Mr Leenaars said a psychological autopsy normally involves extensive interviews with family, friends and those who knew the person. Documents, emails and recordings that could shed light on the identity of the person and what it was are also examined.
Dr. Scott Theriault, a forensic psychiatrist and associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said a psychological autopsy aims to “reconstruct the person’s state of mind” at the time of a crime.
Dr. Theriault performed a psychological autopsy on Lionel Desmond, a former soldier from Nova Scotia who killed three family members before killing himself in 2017.
He determined that Desmond knew of what he had done and would have been criminally responsible.
“You have to build a picture of who that person was or what they looked like,” Dr. Theriault said. Because you can’t talk directly to the person, you need a lot of secondary information. »
Mr Leenaars said psychological autopsies can identify risks to communities and help prevent further tragedies.
“If we don’t understand, we can’t really change things,” he said.
Some of the new information released by the RCMP this week offers clues, Dr. Thériault explained.
Constables said Myles Sanderson and his brother Damien Sanderson were together days before the attack, dealing cocaine and getting into fights.
Damien Sanderson told a friend at a bar the day before the massacre that the brothers had a “mission” and that “people would be hearing about it in the next few hours.”
RCMP reported that a witness also said the brothers were drinking heavily and “getting ready for something” before the attacks.
Myles Sanderson first killed his brother before stabbing the others at various homes and locations, police said.
“From what I’ve seen, there are indications of a disruption in the mental state of the individual before all of this happened,” Dr. Theriault said. But to what extent this will lead to clear conclusions about why it happened the way it did and when it happened, I don’t know. »
A February 2022 parole document showed Myles Sanderson had a two-decade criminal record and a propensity for drunken violence.
He told the council that regular drug use and heavy drinking would make him “lose his mind” and get angry.
The gendarmes said it is not known what prompted the attacks, and they may never know.
“We want to make sure (families) feel supported, informed and able to continue their treatment and healing while their questions are answered,” said Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, Commanding Officer of the RCMP. from Saskatchewan.
Two coroner’s inquests into the murders and into Sanderson’s death in custody are scheduled for next year. Ms Blackmore said a review by an independent officer will also be made public.
“Anyone affected by what happened at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon deserves answers. »
Psychological autopsies have already been called into question.
During the investigation into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead, two researchers said the psychological autopsy of killer Gabriel Wortman lacked fundamental information and that the practice did not provide ” solid means” to generate predictions or preventive strategies.
The researchers said the psychological autopsy did not clearly define its purpose and contained biases, as beliefs were presented as facts.
However, Mr Leenaars said psychological autopsies can be effective, as long as they are done correctly. Researchers need to talk to lots of people, get as much information as possible, and not jump to conclusions.
“Psychological autopsies are difficult, but they have a long history,” he said. You have to be good and thorough. »