Two RCMP officers who unleashed a hailstorm of semi-automatic gunfire at the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade hall last April while searching for the Nova Scotia gunman will not face criminal charges, according to a report completed by the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT).
The SIRT report said that the two officers who fired their weapons did so believing the person they were shooting at was the gunman. This is because he was dressed similarly to the gunman — wearing a yellow and orange reflective vest — and standing near a marked RCMP cruiser at the time of the shooting.
The officers, who were not named in the report, were carrying semi-automatic police carbines at the time of the shooting, according to two eyewitnesses and surveillance video from the fire hall reviewed by Global News.
The shots were fired in the direction of a fellow RCMP officer who was stationed at the fire hall and an employee of the regional Emergency Management Office (EMO).
Both men were outside the front entrance of the building when the RCMP officers began firing, according to two witnesses and surveillance video reviewed by Global News. Two volunteer firefighters and a man whose son was killed by the gunman the night before were inside the fire hall at the time of the shooting.
The shooting occurred at 10:21 a.m. on April 19 during the search for Gabriel Wortman, who murdered 22 people before he was shot dead by two other RCMP officers later that morning.
The SIRT report said the two officers involved in the shooting had been working since 3 a.m. that day. One of the officers had spoken with the gunman’s common-law spouse earlier that morning after she emerged from the woods, the report said.
It was during this interview, where the officer took an official statement from the gunman’s common-law spouse, that the officer learned the gunman was wearing a reflective vest.
At the time of the shooting at the fire hall, the two RCMP officers were located more than 88 metres away from the person they were shooting at when they began firing, according to the report. This is roughly the length of a football field.
The report also said the RCMP officers tried to identify themselves as police before shooting, but the person they mistakenly believed was the gunman ducked behind the police cruiser and did not respond.
It was at this point that the officers fired their weapons, five shots in total, the report said.
People who say they witnessed the RCMP officers firing their weapons, and some of those who were fired upon, say they are still traumatized by the incident.
“On that day, we were terrorized for one hour by the RCMP,” said Darrell Currie, Onslow deputy fire chief and one of the men who was shot at by the RCMP officers, during an interview before the report was released.
Currie was at the fire hall on the morning of April 19 with Onslow fire chief Greg Muise setting up an evacuation centre for people affected by the killing spree.
The two men were inside with the father of a shooting victim when they heard a flurry of semi-automatic gunfire coming from outside the building.
Surveillance video from inside the building shows Currie hurriedly moving toward another part of the building to take cover once the shooting begins. The video also shows the EMO employee who was outside when the shooting started entering the building, staying low in an apparent attempt to avoid being shot.
Currie and Muise said that when the shooting started, they began flipping tables on their sides to make it more difficult for whoever was shooting at them to find them. They also hid behind stacked metal chairs.
At the time of the shooting, no one inside the building knew who was firing at them, Currie and Muise said. Both men said they assumed it was the gunman. They also said they were relieved to make it out of the fire hall alive.
“It was probably the absolute worst moment of my life,” Currie said.
“I don’t think people understand the seriousness of or how close somebody was to dying that day.”
The surveillance video
Global News has reviewed surveillance video from inside and outside the fire hall taken on the day of the shooting.
The video does not show the RCMP officers firing their weapons. At the time of the shooting, the officers were out of range of the fire hall cameras, Currie and Muise said.
Two people who witnessed the shooting told Global News they saw two RCMP officers in an unmarked vehicle stop on the road outside the fire hall and begin firing.
The witnesses said the RCMP officers exited the vehicle after stopping and took up positions in the ditch and near a set of garbage cans. Both officers then started shooting in the direction of the fire hall, the witnesses said.
The surveillance video from outside the fire hall shows two uniformed RCMP officers approach the building with assault-style weapons drawn. One of the officers goes toward the side of the building, while the other officer goes toward the front entrance.
The officer who headed toward the side of the building continues to walk around the back of the fire hall, surveillance video shows. The officer’s weapon appears to be pointed toward the ground as he walks.
The video shows that this officer does not appear to look behind or inside any of the sheds, trailers or shipping containers located on the property. His sweep takes less than a minute, according to the video.
Meanwhile, the other officer who approached the front entrance of the building is seen entering the fire hall with the RCMP officer who was stationed there.
According to time stamps on the surveillance video, the officer with the assault-style firearm was inside the building for less than 20 seconds. The officer who was stationed at the fire hall was inside the building for 30 seconds.
Currie and Muise said none of the RCMP officers checked on them to see if they were injured.
Currie said he heard one of the officers ask if everyone inside was OK, but neither he nor Muise replied because, at the time, they didn’t know who was shooting at them and because they didn’t know who was asking if they were OK.
The two men said they waited an hour before exiting the building. They only did so because they received an update on Twitter that said the gunman was spotted in another part of the province.
Currie and Muise said the RCMP paid for the cost of the damage to the building and equipment, including a firetruck, caused by the shooting.
But, they said, no one from the force has offered an explanation for what happened that morning and no one has apologized for the trauma they experienced.
“They put us through hell,” Muise said. “I don’t feel any better than I did when this happened.”
Global News asked the RCMP if any police officers apologized for the shooting and if an explanation for what happened that morning was provided to the fire fighters. A spokesperson for the force declined to answer these questions.
“Our criminal operations officer has met with members of the Onslow-Belmont Fire Brigade in light of the distress the incident on April 19 may have caused,” Cpl. Mark Skinner said. “RCMP has paid for damages to the Onslow fire hall, repairs to a fire truck and an electronic sign that was damaged as a result of the incident.”