Late in the evening of Saturday, April 18, 2020, a gunman embarked upon one of the deadliest killing sprees in modern Canadian history.
Thirteen hours later it was over, leaving scars on the rural community of Portapique, N.S., the province and the entire country.
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Twenty-two people lost their lives that weekend. Many more people lost someone they loved.
In Episode 2 of 13 Hours, Stolen Dreams, we introduce more of the victims and their families. We also look at the frantic moments after police first arrived on the scene and the evolving theory of how the gunman escaped Portapique.
The gunman's escape
The killing spree began sometime around 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). That’s when the first 911 calls started coming in, police say.
Police sources tell Global News the attacks started when the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, attacked his long-time partner. We’re calling her Beth to protect her identity.
Wortman bound and assaulted her, police sources say. He then doused his home, warehouse and several vehicles he owned in gasoline before setting them ablaze.
But Beth escaped and ran into the woods.
What happened next is unclear. Multiple police sources have told Global News they believe the gunman went door-to-door in Portapique searching for Beth, and then killed his neighbours and lit some of their homes on fire.
Police first arrived on the scene at 10:26 p.m., nearly 30 minutes after the first 911 calls.
About two weeks later, RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell described what police believe happened that night after they arrived on the scene. He explained that police believed the gunman left Portapique at approximately 10:35 p.m.
This was according to an eyewitness who told police they saw a vehicle that was “travelling through a field” at 10:35 p.m. — nine minutes after officers first arrived at the scene — Campbell said during a news conference on April 28.
But the RCMP no longer believe this is accurate. In two separate emails, sent to Global News on Oct. 27 and 28, the RCMP said they now believe the gunman didn’t leave the scene until 10:45 p.m. This means the shooter left Portapique roughly 19 minutes after police first arrived on the scene, not nine.
“Through the course of the investigation we have determined the timing of approximately 10:45 to be the most accurate,” said Cpl. Lisa Croteau.
It’s also unclear whether the gunman actually drove “through” a field as Campbell originally described.
In their recent emails, the RCMP say Wortman drove on “Blueberry Field Road.” Though not an official road, blueberry field road connects Cobequid Court at the south end of Portapique to Brown Loop near the highway.
Global News asked the RCMP when and why their description of these events had changed. The RCMP did not answer these questions.
It’s not unusual for police or witnesses to provide conflicting descriptions of events during an ongoing criminal investigation. In the case of the Nova Scotia shooting, it isn’t clear whether police spoke to any witnesses who changed their description of events.
Elizabeth Joanne Thomas and John Zahl were together for 35 years. It was a whirlwind romance when they met in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1985. They were married within two months. They adopted their grandsons, Justin and Riley, while living in the United States and moved to Portapique in 2017.
Zahl, 69, was a Vietnam War veteran. He also worked at FedEx after the couple moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thomas, 58, was a health care worker and administrator.
The couple was active in their local church and volunteered within the community, working at a laundry program for people in need in Truro, N.S. They also supported animal rescue organizations.
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn had just begun what was supposed to be their dream retirement in Portapique when tragedy struck.
They had spent a lot of time apart in recent years. Dawn worked as a dietary aid at a long-term care facility in Ontario, while Frank moved to Nova Scotia to build their dream home. Still, they stuck together and made it work.
Spending time with family and caring for their three children — Ryan, Jon and Traceena — and their grandchildren was a huge part of their lives.
The family loved throwing surprise parties, including a surprise birthday party for Dawn in March 2019.
Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and Emily Tuck loved the outdoors. During their first few years in Portapique, they lived off the grid with solar panels for electricity and wood fire for heat.
Aaron was 45, Jolene 39, and Emily, their daughter, was 17.
At the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the family posted a video to Facebook reciting “stay the blazes home,” a uniquely Nova Scotian expression encouraging people to keep safe and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Aaron and Jolene encouraged Emily’s love of music and shared her fiddle rendition of In Memory of Herbie MacLeod with the world on Facebook in late March.
Peter and Joy Bond were the type of couple that walked down the street holding hands, even in their 70s, their son Harry said.
Peter worked as a trucker for many of his 74 years. The job kept him apart from his family at times, but he was happiest when Joy was beside him in the truck.
Joy, 70, collected spoons from all the places they visited while on the road.
Friends and family described them as loving, caring and willing to go out of their way to help anyone.
The community of Chester, N.S., where the Bonds once lived, paid tribute to them in a YouTube video.
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