Warning: This story contains content that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
The killings that began Saturday night in the rural Nova Scotia community of Portapique and ended the next morning with the death of the gunman at a gas station started with domestic violence when Gabriel Wortman attacked his girlfriend, sources tell Global News.
Investigators believe Wortman and his girlfriend were at a party at a nearby home in the Portapique area when Wortman began arguing with her. They left the party and sources believe Wortman escalated the argument back at his cottage — assaulting her and tying her up. She escaped and hid in the woods.
Wortman left his cottage after the assault and investigators believe that’s when the shootings started. He returned to the house where the party was being held and killed several people there, sources said.
Global News has learned that Wortman had access to multiple guns over the course of the rampage — a rifle, a handgun and a shotgun, sources said. Global News does not yet know how he obtained those guns.
Portapique is a small, rural community on the banks of the Cobequid Bay and the Portapique River and just off Highway 2. RCMP said Wednesday they set up two perimeters in the area but at some point in the evening, learned Wortman had made it past undetected.
Police found Wortman’s girlfriend around 7 a.m. local, sources said. It was from her they learned he was likely dressed as a police officer and driving a fake cruiser. She also provided the picture of the vehicle that was widely distributed. The information changed the way police were searching for Wortman.
Police first tweeted about Wortman at 9:04 a.m. local time Sunday. Less than an hour later they tweeted again warning he may be driving what “appears to be an RCMP vehicle & may be wearing an RCMP uniform.”
Sources confirmed to Global News that Wortman shot RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson in the chest before dragging her from her car and shooting her again.
He stole her handgun, sources say. It’s not known whether he used the handgun on any of his victims.
The RCMP has handed over aspects of the investigation to the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), an affiliated body that investigates “all matters that involve death, serious injury, sexual assault and domestic violence or other matters of significant public interest that may have arisen from the actions of any police officer in Nova Scotia,” according to its website.
Police have not yet commented on a possible motive, nor have they said whether the killing was planned.
A member of the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team and an RCMP K9 officer spotted Wortman at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., when they stopped there. Wortman realized the police had spotted him and went for his gun but the highly trained ERT officer shot and killed him before he could fire on police, sources said.
“The investigation is detailed and complex,” the RCMP said in a statement Tuesday. “The investigative team is focused on learning more about this very tragic situation, including accurate victim information and whether others may have aided the suspect.”
The RCMP is investigating 16 scenes throughout the province and, as of Tuesday afternoon, said at least 22 people are dead.
The RCMP have not said how many of the victims Wortman knew.
RCMP declined to comment on Global News’ story when contacted as the investigation is ongoing.
Intimate partner violence accounts for one-third of all police-reported violent crimes in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, with over 99,000 victims in 2018. The rate of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada also increased two per cent from 2017 to 2018, reaching its highest level in Canada since 2012, and was most likely to happen in a private home.