Officer who was among 1st to respond to James Smith massacre testifies at inquest

RCMP Const. Tanner Maynard was one of the first officers to arrive at James Smith that morning.

'We knew we were dealing with something substantial': RCMP Const. Tanner Maynard

A man with a briefcase walks by a teepee on his way into a building.
People enter the coroner's inquest into the mass stabbings that happened on James Smith Cree Nation in 2022 in Melfort, Sask., on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Liam RIchards/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

RCMP Const. Tanner Maynard could see that the woman inside a home on James Smith Cree Nation was already dead, but he encouraged her relative to continue giving her CPR.

Maynard said he knew it was likely futile, but still important.

"You always want to provide the opportunity for a family member to say they did everything they could to save their loved ones," Maynard said, his voice cracking.

Maynard was testifying Wednesday afternoon at the inquest into Myles Sanderson's killing of 11 people in the mass stabbings at James Smith and the nearby village of Weldon. Seventeen people were also injured.

Previous testimony and information has summarized the events, but this is the first time a responding officer has spoken publicly about the events of Sept. 4, 2022.

As one of the first officers to arrive at James Smith that morning, Maynard was asked to describe what he observed and did.

As Maynard testified about that scene in that first home, he paused several times. He was asked if he needed a break, but said he could continue.

Maynard, who was also one of the first officers responding to another mass fatality — the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash — said he then made the difficult decision to leave that home and try to catch the suspect.

"My goal was to stop that threat. My goal was to catch that suspect. But I had to leave this scene," Maynard said at the inquest, which is being held in a community centre auditorium in Melfort, Sask.

As he drove from one house to another, more and more reports of attacks were coming through his radio.

"That's when we knew we were dealing with something substantial and the attacks were ongoing," he said.

The faces of 11 people, with names and ages when they died, are all in one image.
Eleven people were killed in the Sept. 4, 2022 stabbings. Most were from James Smith Cree Nation. One man was from Weldon, Sask. (CBC)

Once other officers arrived, Maynard tried to "look at the bigger picture" and organize the response.

Approximately 50 RCMP officers descended on James Smith. A police plane was sent from Saskatoon. Ambulances arrived from Melfort, Prince Albert and elsewhere. An armed conservation officer provided security at the band office so RCMP could search for suspects and accompany medical staff.

"There were vehicles coming from everywhere. There were people grieving, people screaming in pain," Maynard said.

Reports came in that Myles Sanderson had been spotted in Weldon so some officers went there, but did not find him.

Sanderson remained at large for several days until he was stopped on the highway near Rosthern, Sask., and died shortly after being taken into custody.

The day before

Maynard was also asked to testify about the previous day, Sept. 3. That's when a woman reported a vehicle stolen by her ex-partner Damien Sanderson, Myles's brother. Damien was with his brother at the time and would become Myles's first victim.

Maynard and a partner drove to James Smith. They said they tracked down the vehicle and knocked on the door of a nearby home. They were given permission to enter.

Maynard said he went to the basement and asked several people if they'd seen Damien Sanderson. Maynard now knows one of them was Damien, but he gave Maynard a false name. Maynard did not ask them to produce identification and left.

By this time, the woman who owned the vehicle was outside the house. Maynard was asked at the inquest if the woman told him that Damien was inside. He said he didn't recall.

Officer calls reluctance to police 'a hurdle'

Earlier Wednesday, the inquest heard that some Indigenous people are still reluctant to call police for help, and RCMP know they have to work hard to change that.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Case, commander for the Saskatchewan detachment that includes James Smith, said people not reporting things to police is very common.

"It does concern me when people aren't reporting. That's a hurdle we have to try and get over."

The inquest heard about issues ranging from colonialism and residential schools to negative personal experiences with police. It also heard that Myles and Damien had committed assaults that were not reported prior to the killings.

Coroner's counsel Timothy Hawryluk said if any of those assaults had been reported to police, "this could have been a much different scenario."

Case said he and his 15 fellow officers stationed in Melfort are trying to communicate more frequently with the internal security force at James Smith. He said they are valued partners.

The security force is unarmed, but has uniforms and marked patrol vehicles with flashing lights. They help with crowd and traffic control at scenes, and share tips about local people or conditions.

"They've assisted us in a number of ways.… I feel we work together quite well," said Case, who was not at the detachment at the time of the killings on Sept. 4, 2022.

two people hug outside building
People comfort each other outside the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort, Sask., on Tuesday during a lunch break at the public coroner's inquest into the mass stabbings that happened on James Smith Cree Nation in 2022. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

RCMP will often call the security force first before responding to some calls, asking if there's anything officers should know. RCMP have also started asking for help enforcing warrants, Case said.

At the time of the stabbings, a warrant was out for Sanderson's arrest after he failed to report to his probation officer.

Case was asked if stationing one or two RCMP at James Smith rather than in Melfort, an approximately 25-minute drive away, would improve safety. He said there are discussions underway with James Smith leadership to do exactly that.

As for warrants, Case said there are two types. A more urgent response is made if someone has done something and is a danger at that moment. Warrants for someone who fails to report to their parole officer or fails to meet other conditions are lower priority.

Case said officers are busy handling approximately 6,000 files per year. That said, officers review outstanding warrants every day and seek to enforce them, he said.

In previous statements, James Smith Chief Wally Burns has talked about the need for James Smith to eventually have its own police force, as some First Nations in southeast Saskatchewan and elsewhere do. He said talks with the federal government are underway.

Week began with detailed account

Over the first two days of the inquest, RCMP Staff Sgt. Robin Zentner summarized the massacre of 11 people, as well as the hours leading up to it. 

Evidence presented on Tuesday included audio of 911 calls, text messages, accounts of each killing and graphic crime scene photos.

Zentner was the first of 31 witnesses who are expected to testify over the next two to three weeks and answer questions from both the inquest jurors and others who have standing at the inquest, including James Smith Cree Nation, relatives of the victims and the RCMP.

The public inquest is scheduled to continue until Feb. 2.

Coroners inquests are not meant to assign legal responsibility for deaths, but at its end, the six members of the inquest jury will be tasked with providing recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. Two jury members have also been selected as alternates.

The inquest is also intended to honour the victims of the stabbings.

WATCH | James Smith Cree Nation prepares for coroner's inquest into mass stabbing: 

James Smith Cree Nation prepares for coroner’s inquest into mass stabbing

3 months ago
Duration 2:05
Leaders of the James Smith Cree Nation are asking Canadians to pray for the community as it begins a coroner’s inquest into the 2022 mass stabbing that led to 11 people being killed.

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

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.


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.