Nova Scotia community reeling as shooting spree death toll continues to climb

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia shooting: Death toll in N.S. shooting spree expected to rise'
Nova Scotia shooting: Death toll in N.S. shooting spree expected to rise
WATCH ABOVE: Nova Scotia RCMP say there is in excess of 19 deaths involved in Canada’s largest mass shooting in modern day history. That number is expected to rise as investigators dig through the charred remains of homes that have been burned to the ground – Apr 20, 2020

A small rural Nova Scotia community is coming to grips with a 12-hour shooting spree that killed “in excess of 19” people, the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.

The primary suspect of the shooting has also died, police confirmed Sunday.

READ MORE: 17 dead, including one RCMP officer, after shooting spree in Portapique, N.S.

Speaking at a press briefing Monday, Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said there are currently over 19 victims, but they expect to potentially identify more as the investigation unfolds.

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“We’re relatively confident we’ve identified all the crime scenes, however, we’ve been unable to full examine the crime scenes because, for instance, we have had five structure fires, most of those being residences,” Leather said.

“We believe there may be victims still with the remains of those homes.”

Click to play video: 'RCMP ‘confident’ all crime scenes identified, unable to fully examine due to structure fires'
RCMP ‘confident’ all crime scenes identified, unable to fully examine due to structure fires

One of the victims has been identified as RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force. Stevenson leaves behind a husband and two children.

Nova Scotia RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson (RCMP photo). RCMP photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Stevenson during a press briefing in Ottawa.

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“She died protecting others,” he said. “She was answering the call of duty, something she had done every day when she went to work for 23 years.”

In a statement Sunday night, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) confirmed that Lisa McCully, a teacher at Debert Elementary, was also a victim of the shooting.

“9,300 NSTU hearts are broken along with those of her colleagues and students at Debert Elementary, as well as her family and friends who knew her not only as a passionate teacher but as a shining love in their lives,” the NSTU said in a statement.

Facebook/Lisa McCully. Facebook

Another RCMP officer was shot and injured in the incident. Chief Supt. Leather confirmed Const. Chad Morrison, an 11-year member of the RCMP, is now home and recovering from gunshot wounds.

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With 16 victims, the shooting was the deadliest in Canadian history, surpassing the death toll of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

Click to play video: 'The deadliest massacres in Canadian history'
The deadliest massacres in Canadian history

Shooting spree

Nova Scotia RCMP initially responded to a firearms call at a residence in Portapique, N.S., where members located “several casualties inside and outside of the home.”

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Police were asking the public to avoid the area, describing the matter as a “very quickly evolving situation and a chaotic scene.”

On Sunday morning, police identified the suspect in an “active shooter” situation, describing the man as “armed and dangerous.”

READ MORE: Timeline of what we know about Nova Scotia killing spree that left RCMP officer, 16 others dead

Police later indicated the suspect was wearing at least a portion of a police uniform and driving a vehicle that was made to look like an RCMP cruiser.

They then clarified that the suspect was not a member of the RCMP.

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In the hours that followed, Nova Scotia RCMP provided updates on the man’s suspected whereabouts on their social media channels. Police indicated that the suspect had switched vehicles and was last seen in a small silver Chevrolet Tracker. 

The search ended at the Enfield Big Stop on Highway 102, about 90 kilometres away from Portapique. Police say they are not looking for any other suspects.

RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki called it an “extremely dynamic situation” and said there were multiple crime scenes over a large area.

The investigation has been turned over to Nova Scotia’s independent police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT). In a statement, SiRT said it is probing the “shooting of a male in Enfield by RCMP officers.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia shooting: RCMP Commissioner calls Nova Scotia shooting spree a ‘senseless type of event’'
Nova Scotia shooting: RCMP Commissioner calls Nova Scotia shooting spree a ‘senseless type of event’

According to the police watchdog, RCMP officers responded to a “series of serious criminal events in Colchester County” on Saturday night.

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“The male suspect fled the area,” SiRT said. “On Sunday morning, the suspect was involved in a serious criminal event in Shubenacadie.

“A confrontation with police followed in Enfield, resulting in officers discharging their firearms. The suspect was found to be deceased at the scene.”

SiRT says it is investigating three separate issues relating to the investigation, but few other details have been released.

‘We stand with you’

At a press briefing Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “saddened” to learn about the “senseless violence” in Nova Scotia that claimed multiple lives.

“To the grandparent who lost a child, the children who lost a parent, to the neighbour who lost a friend, we are so sorry for your loss,” Trudeau said. “Such a tragedy should have never occurred. Violence of any kind has no place in Canada.”

“We stand with you and we grieve with you. You can count on our government’s full support during this incredibly painful time.”

Speaking at a COVID-19 press briefing Sunday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil called the shooting “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”

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“I never imagined when I went to bed last night that I would wake up to the horrific news that an active shooter was on the loose in Nova Scotia,” McNeil said.

“Words cannot console the families affected by what has transpired over the last 24 hours. To the families of the victims and to those who are still feeling afraid, my heart goes out to you. Know that all Nova Scotians are with you.”

On Monday, he reminded the public that now is a critical time to mourn and heal from a distance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The heart behind us [has] a meaning. It’s about our love for each other, it’s about strength, and it’s about getting through this together,” he said as he pointed towards a map of Nova Scotia in the background with a heart and the words “Stronger Together” written on it.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, echoed that sentiment.

“While we want to mourn victims and come together as communities, we need to do that in a way that does not create an environment for COVID-19 to further spread,” Strang said.

U.S. President Donald Trump extended his condolences in a statement Monday night.

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“The United States and Canada share a special, enduring bond. As friends and neighbors, we will always stand with one another through our most trying times and greatest challenges,” read the White House statement.

— With files from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson and Alexander Quon

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