The sharp cracking sound of semi-automatic gunfire sent Greg Muise and Darrell Currie crashing to the ground.
The two volunteer firefighters were setting up an evacuation centre at the Onslow-Belmont fire hall for victims of the Nova Scotia killing spree last April 19 when, out of nowhere, bullets began flying.
Some shots went through the side of the building they were in. Others shattered part of the windshield of a firetruck and damaged a stone monument to deceased firefighters set up outside the building’s main entrance.
Fearing for their lives, and knowing an armed gunman was on the loose, Muise and Currie rushed to find safety in the farthest corner of the building, as far away from the sound of gunfire as they could get.
“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 (at the fire hall) that day.”
The pair ran behind an accordion-style partition to hide, knocking over tables and stacks of metal chairs in the fire hall’s community meeting space. Their goal, they said, was to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to find them.
Terrified, the two men said nothing. They didn’t move. They didn’t call out for help. They didn’t dare dial 911.
They sat in silence, hoping they wouldn’t be the gunman’s next victims.
“I remember thinking, when I was in there, how am I going to die? Is it going to be fast?” Currie said. “Am I going to see this person? Am I going to lay bleeding on the floor?”
On the weekend of April 18 and 19, 2020, Gabriel Wortman murdered 22 people in one of the deadliest killing sprees in modern Canadian history.
The gunman, dressed as a police officer and driving a lookalike RCMP vehicle, killed 13 people in the hamlet of Portapique on April 18 before moving to other parts of the province where he killed nine more people, including an on-duty RCMP officer, the following day.
What Muise and Currie didn’t realize at the time of the shooting at the fire hall is that police officers were the ones firing at them.
“I thought I was going to lose my life,” Muise said. “We had no idea who was involved, who was doing it.”
Muise and Currie weren’t alone at the fire hall when the shooting started that weekend. The father of one of the gunman’s first victims was also there.
Richard Ellison, whose son Corrie Ellison was shot by the gunman in Portapique, spent much of the night before on the phone with 911 operators. His other son Clinton spent several hours in the woods hiding from the gunman after finding his brother’s lifeless body in the street.
Richard was taken by the police to the fire hall on Sunday morning.
There was also an employee of the local Emergency Management Office (EMO) and a uniformed RCMP officer stationed at the fire hall at the time of the shooting. These men were outside the building’s main entrance when the shooting began, according to two eyewitnesses.
The video shows the EMO employee and the RCMP officer stationed at the fire hall both during and after the shooting. It suggests the two officers who fired their weapons may have mistakenly identified these men as the gunman.
“I heard the shots and the EMO guy came barrelling in the door. He was yelling something like ‘shots fired,’” Currie said.
Meanwhile, Sharon McLellan, who witnessed the incident, was at her home across the street from the fire hall when the shooting started.
She was making coffee and looking out her kitchen window when she saw what she believes was a grey Hyundai sedan come to a sudden stop in the middle of the road.
“The two doors swung open. Two people ran towards the fire hall, one went in the ditch, one went behind the garbage bin. And they just opened fire,” McLellan said.
“The cop that was stationed (at the fire hall), he was just standing there with his hands waving, his hands up, like, don’t shoot, don’t shoot.”
“A couple seconds later, after the shooting stopped, the two men who were firing their weapons got up and walked towards the fire hall,” McLellan said. “That’s when I realized they were uniformed police and not the shooter.”
“Who do you trust?” she said. “These guys are supposed to be there to help us. But, instead, they just fired at the first thing they see.”
It’s unclear why the RCMP officers stopped their vehicle and began firing their weapons toward the fire hall.
Surveillance video from the fire hall shows that one of the people in front of the building at the time of the shooting — the local emergency management employee — was wearing a yellow reflective vest, and standing beside the RCMP cruiser that belonged to the officer who was stationed at the fire hall since about 8:30 a.m.
The vest is similar to a vest worn by the gunman during the killing spree.
The fire hall shooting happened at approximately 10:21 a.m., four minutes after the RCMP sent out a tweet warning the public that the gunman may be dressed like a police officer and may be driving a lookalike RCMP cruiser.
But police have said they learned about these details roughly four hours earlier, when the gunman’s common-law spouse emerged from the woods in Portapique and provided information about the gunman’s mock RCMP cruiser and uniform.
She also told police about a “fluorescent yellow jacket” he put in the front seat of his vehicle to make it look like he was a police officer, according to search warrant applications prepared by the RCMP.
The search warrant applications say a 911 caller from Glenholme informed police that the gunman was at their home earlier that morning with a “ball cap on and a vest.”
The RCMP said this call happened at 9:48 a.m. — 33 minutes before the two officers started shooting at the fire hall.
Neither Muise, Currie nor McLellan was given an explanation for what happened that morning. They also say the RCMP has never apologized.
The RCMP refused to explain why the officers fired their weapons toward the fire hall, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting by the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT). They also refused to say whether anyone has apologized for the incident.
“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 in a written statement.
“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.”
Surveillance video from the fire hall shows that once the shooting stopped, the two uniformed RCMP officers approached the front of the building.
Both officers are seen carrying what appear to be assault-style weapons. RCMP members are equipped with semi-automatic carbines.
One of the officers heads toward the back of the fire hall. He completes a loop around the building. His weapon appears to be pointed toward the ground. At times, he holds the firearm with one hand.
The second officer is seen approaching the front of the building, where he speaks with the RCMP officer who was stationed at the fire hall and who was just shot at by his colleagues. These two men then enter the fire hall’s main entrance.
The officer carrying the assault-style rifle was inside the building for 19 seconds, according to the surveillance video. The other officer was inside for approximately 30 seconds.
After the two men exit the building they meet up briefly with the third officer who had just completed his loop around the perimeter, according to the surveillance video. The two officers with assault-style weapons then walk back in the direction of their vehicle.
The entire incident, from the time people are seen ducking for cover on the surveillance video to when the RCMP officers with assault-style weapons are seen heading back toward their vehicle, lasted three minutes and 13 seconds.
McLellan, meanwhile, said she continued watching the incident from her kitchen window. She saw the two officers walk across the parking lot, get back inside their vehicle and drive east toward the town of Truro.
Even though 10 months have passed since the shooting, McLellan said she’s still haunted by what happened that day.
“I see a cop and my stomach comes up my throat. I just, I panic.”
“Sometimes the RCMP will drive by my house and they’ll stop at the fire hall and they’ll just sit there, for whatever reason. I don’t know if it’s just a spot for them to stop and take notes or whatever, but they’re there. And that’s a reminder for me. It scares the hell out of me. It really does.”
The RCMP refused to answer any questions about the surveillance video from the fire hall, citing the ongoing SIRT investigation.
Muise and Currie are also still struggling to cope with the aftermath of what happened that day. The trauma of the shooting and the memories of that morning have changed them, they said.
“They put us through hell,” Muise said. “Right now, I don’t feel any better than I did when this happened.”
Currie said he has difficulty sleeping and that his only real sense of comfort comes from speaking with his wife.
“We were terrorized for one hour by the RCMP in the middle of the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
“What could be worse than that, other than losing a family member?”
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