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 3 of 13 Hours, Emergency Response, we explore how police and paramedics responded to the shootings, plus more on how the gunman escaped Portapique.
Police first arrived on scene in Portapique at 10:26 p.m. on April 18. Officers were met by a man shortly after they arrived who said he was shot by a neighbour named “Gabe” who was driving a vehicle that looked like an RCMP cruiser.
The officers called for backup while they waited at the corner of Portapique Beach Road and Highway 2. Court documents say the witness met police on Portapique Beach Road, near Orchard Beach Drive.
RCMP critical incident units responded to the scene to search for the gunman and to contain the area around Portapique. This included K9 units, members of the Emergency Response Team, crisis negotiators and explosives disposal units.
As police responded, paramedics and emergency health service dispatchers tried to make sense of what was happening in Portapique.
Audio recordings of their conversations from April 18 provide insight into the challenges first responders faced when trying to help the victims and protect themselves.
RCMP officers searched and tried to secure the area after arriving on scene in Portapique.
At the same time, police were running background checks that provided more information about the shooter. This included details about three plated Ford Taurus vehicles owned by the gunman. Police believed they were previously used as police cars.
Police found two of these vehicles burning at the gunman’s Portapique properties and the third was found in Dartmouth, N.S., where the gunman also owned property, with the assistance of Halifax Regional Police.
What police didn’t realize at the time is that the gunman owned a fourth Ford Taurus vehicle — a decommissioned RCMP cruiser purchased through a government auction website — that had no licence plate.
This was the vehicle the gunman used in the attacks on April 18 and 19. He had modified it to look nearly identical to a real RCMP cruiser.
Campbell also said on April 24 that officers who first arrived on the scene were told by the witness who was shot by the gunman that there was only one way in and out of Portapique.
But there is another route out of Portapique, using a back road that runs adjacent to a blueberry field.
It was on this road that the RCMP says a witness spotted a vehicle believed to be the gunman’s leaving Portapique at approximately 10:45 p.m. on April 18.
The RCMP only learned of this information after the killing spree was over, Campbell said on April 24.
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