Warning: This story contains content that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
The RCMP has released a detailed account of how the mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia transpired last weekend, spanning six communities and leaving at least 22 dead during a terrifying 13-hour rampage.
The gunman began the deadly spree of violence when he attacked his long-time girlfriend, Global News first reported Thursday. RCMP confirmed Friday that she escaped her home and hid in the woods overnight and later provided key information to police.
“She did manage to escape,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Supt. Darren Campbell told reporters Friday. “As part of this investigation, that’s a consideration that we have. That could have been a catalyst.”
Police said Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old denturist, acted alone in the killings and later died at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., roughly 100 kilometres from where the shooting began, after exchanging gunfire with RCMP officers.
Police said the massacre started in the community of Portapique, about 40 kilometres west of Truro, just after 10 p.m. Saturday. RCMP arrive in the area at 10:26 p.m. and find victims at more than seven locations on Portapique Beach Road, Orchard Beach Road and Bayview Court.
Police said Wortman eventually travelled about 43 kilometres north to the Wentworth area, where a shooting incident occurred at 9:35 a.m. Sunday. He then drove 30 kilometres southeast to Debert, claiming more victims at 10:08 a.m.
The assailant then drove another 51 kilometres south to Shubenacadie, where he killed several people at 10:49 a.m. His final stop was at a gas station 24 kilometres southwest in Enfield, where Wortman was killed by police at 11:26 a.m.
Supt. Darren Campbell said during a news conference Friday that there were three clusters of shooting incidents and three other people injured in addition to the 22 deceased victims.
“Some of those who lost their lives did so while trying to save others. They are true heroes,” Supt. Darren Campbell told reporters.
“To call this a tragedy would be an understatement.”
Victims included 23-year veteran of the RCMP Heidi Stevenson; a family of three, including their 17-year-old daughter; health-care workers; an elementary school teacher; a retired firefighter and two corrections officers.
Here’s a closer look at each shooting location:
Police say officers arrived at the scene at 10:26 p.m. in the rural beach community of Portapique, where they located a man who was leaving the area with an apparent gunshot wound.
“They learned that this male was shot while driving his vehicle, and the victim indicated that a vehicle had driven by him while he was driving and that he was shot as the vehicle was passing by,” Campbell said.
The victim noted the gunman was driving what appeared to be a police vehicle, according to police. The victim was taken to hospital and survived.
Emergency crews responded to a grim scene where several people were deceased, some of whom were lying in the roadway, and several homes were on fire.
In total, 13 people were killed in the Portapique area, according to police.
“In total, there were over seven locations where people were found deceased,” Campbell told reporters. “Many of the deceased were discovered when responding members were checking homes and/or for suspects.”
Police said they started looking at a number of possible suspects as a result of the information they were receiving and established secure parameters and requested air support.
Campbell said early in the investigation, they learned of a possible suspect who lived in a home within the community.
“The possible suspect’s home and garages, I can confirm, were fully engulfed in flames as well,” he said. “Two police-packaged Ford vehicles as well as a third vehicle was also burning on that potential suspect’s property.”
Campbell says that’s when they learned the gunman was in possession of a pistol and long-barrelled weapons.
“We learned that he was also known to own several vehicles that look like police vehicles,” Campbell said.
Police said a “victim emerged from hiding” after 6:30 a.m. following a 911 call she had made.
“It was at that time, through that significant key witness, we confirmed more details about Gabriel Wortman,” Campbell said. “This included the fact that he was in possession of a fully marked and equipped RCMP vehicle and was wearing a police uniform.”
At 11:32 p.m., the RCMP sent out a tweet asking residents to “stay in their homes with doors locked at this time.” The Twitter account then fell silent for eight hours until a tweet at just after 9 a.m. warning residents that the gunman may be driving a mock RCMP vehicle and be dressed as an officer.
Residents and victims’ families have asked why police did not issue an emergency alert to be broadcast on mobile devices and televisions across the province.
Supt. Campbell said a “full review” is being conducted into how information was shared with the public while the killer was on the loose.
“I hear the families of those victims, we hear them full force. They have every right to ask these questions, and they have every right to be angry,” he said. “Public trust is a cornerstone of our ability to do our job. The RCMP needs that trust.”
More than 60 kilometres north of the Portapique area, the gunman attended a residence on Hunter Road in the Glenholme area, where Campbell says the shooter killed two men and one woman and set the residences on fire.
“At least two of the victims were known to the gunman,” Campbell said.
Police said they believe the gunman travelled to another residence on Highway 4, also in the Glenholme area.
“He had knocked on the door and had woken the occupants,” Campbell said. “He was known to the residents, and they identified him to the 911 call taker.”
The occupants did not answer the door, and the gunman left, police say.
The gunman continued southbound on Highway 4 from Glenholme to the Wentworth area around 9:35 a.m. On the way, Wortman encountered a woman who was out walking and shot the woman at the roadside.
He travelled south towards Debert, where he encountered two other people who happened to be driving their vehicles at that time.
“The witness described that the suspect had pulled over one of the vehicles and shot one of the drivers,” said Campbell. “He continued driving down that same road, Highway 4, and he encountered a second vehicle, and he shot and killed that victim at that location.”
Campbell says it was a distance about 44 kilometres from Hunter Road to the last incident in Debert at around 10:08 a.m.
Shubenacadie – Milford – Enfield
Police say RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson and Const. Chad Morrison were working during that time at the detachment in Enfield.
“Both were communicating on their police radios with each other, and they had arranged to make a meet,” Campbell said.
Morrison was waiting for Stevenson at Highway 2 and Highway 224 when the gunman approached in a marked cruiser.
“What appeared to be a marked police vehicle then approached Const. Morrison,” said Campbell. “As they had pre-arranged to meet at that location, Const. Morrison thought that the vehicle was Const. Stevenson.
“The approaching police vehicle was actually driven by the gunman.”
Campbell said the gunman pulled up to Morrison and immediately opened fire.
“Const. Morrison received several gunshot wounds, and he began to retreat from the area, driving his vehicle away from the scene,” he said.
“He notified other officers and dispatch that he had been shot and that he was en route to an EHS station for emergency medical attention.”
Campbell said it was during that time that Stevenson was nearby, believed to be driving northbound on Highway 2 while the gunman was travelling southbound.
“At that point, both vehicles collided head-on,” said Campbell. “Const. Stevenson engaged the gunman.
“The gunman took Const. Stevenson’s life. He also took Const. Stevenson’s issued sidearm and her magazines.”
When a passerby stopped to assist people in the crash, he was fatally shot by the gunman, who then set fire to both Const. Stevenson’s damaged cruiser and his own replica cruiser.
“I’ve been a police officer for almost 30 years now and I can’t imagine any more horrific set of circumstances when you’re trying to search for someone that looks like you — the dangers that that causes, the complications that that causes,” said Campbell.
The assailant left the scene driving south on Highway 224 in the passerby’s vehicle, which was described as a silver SUV. He travelled a short distance, then entered a home belonging to a woman he knew, on the east side of Highway 224.
“The gunman shot and killed that female resident,” Campbell said.
Police say at that point, the gunman removed the police clothing he was wearing at the time and transferred his weapons to the female victim’s vehicle, which was a Mazda 3.
“The gunman travelled south on Highway 224, coming to the Big Stop Irving in Enfield.”
While the gunman was filling up his vehicle, Campbell said he was spotted by a member of the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team.
“When the officer exited the vehicle, there was an encounter, and the gunman was shot and killed by police at 11:26 in the morning.”
N.S. Police watchdog investigates
Aspects of the investigation have been turned over to Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), which investigates “all matters that involve death, serious injury, sexual assault and domestic violence or other matters” involving police in Nova Scotia.
SiRT is investigating why two RCMP members allegedly discharged their firearms in the direction of a fire hall in Onslow being used as a place of refuge the morning of the shooting.
The police watchdog is also investigating the incident at the gas station that led to the shooter’s death.
The rampage in rural Nova Scotia marked the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, surpassing the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal that killed 14 women.
— With files from Mercedes Stephenson and James Armstrong