‘Someone in a cop car shot at us’: Witnesses poke holes in RCMP version of N.S. shooting timeline

Click to play video: '911 calls paint picture of Nova Scotia mass shooting timeline' 911 calls paint picture of Nova Scotia mass shooting timeline
WATCH: New documents are helping paint a better picture of what exactly happened in Portapique the night of April 18, 2020. As Graeme Benjamin reports, 911 calls reveal that witnesses and victims told police who the shooter was, and that was driving what appeared to be a police cruiser. – Feb 28, 2022

Warning: This story contains content that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

On a night in which 13 people were shot and killed in a small Nova Scotia community, three RCMP officers were a little more than a football field away from the gunman and didn’t engage.

This never-before-shared detail, based on multiple eyewitness accounts and transcripts of 911 calls, comes from documents released by the public inquiry looking into the killing spree, which left 22 people dead on the weekend of April 18-19, 2020.

“It’s our neighbour, Gabe, he just shot me in the arm!” exclaimed Andrew MacDonald to a 911 call-taker at 10:27 p.m. as he drove away from the gunman and toward the RCMP.

These accounts describe a chaotic scene where the gunman shot at MacDonald and his wife while they were in their vehicle and then pursued them at high speeds while driving a look-alike police cruiser.

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Read more: ‘Somewhat defensive’ start as N.S. shooting inquiry begins under heavy criticism

The details, which the inquiry says are the most accurate version of what happened during the two-day killing spree created to date, vary from what police told the public in the days, weeks and months after the shootings.

This is also the first inside glimpse of what happened during the earliest hours of the shooting spree based on more than a year of investigations conducted by the inquiry.

Another witness who was driving in Portapique the night of the shootings saw the gunman chase MacDonald and stop his fake police car roughly 170 meters from where the first RCMP officers who arrived on scene were located.

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It’s unclear based on the documents whether police knew the gunman’s exact location at that time – it’s possible they didn’t – but the 911 calls make it clear he was very close and very dangerous.

“Somebody in a cop car shot at us,” MacDonald’s wife told an RCMP risk manager over the phone just moments after the confrontation, according to the inquiry.

Click to play video: 'RCMP released most detailed timeline yet of what happened in Portapique' RCMP released most detailed timeline yet of what happened in Portapique
RCMP released most detailed timeline yet of what happened in Portapique – Jun 16, 2021

While the RCMP did mention a witness who said he was shot by a man named “Gabe” during a press conference held shortly after the killings, they didn’t release details about the call between MacDonald’s wife and the RCMP risk manager.

The RCMP also didn’t mention the third witness who said the gunman stopped his vehicle close to where the first three officers on scene were located.

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“We didn’t even make it three, four lengths of the car and there was flashing lights coming in the road, like cop lights” David Faulkner told inquiry investigators, describing what happened moments after the gunman stopped his vehicle.

RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell described the encounter between officers and MacDoanld in a press conference five days after the shootings. He said MacDonald told the RCMP the gunman was driving away from them, not toward them.

“(MacDonald) also indicated to responding officers that that vehicle was driving toward the beach and that there was one way in and out of the community – and it’s important to note that,” Campbell said on April 24, 2020.

Police on scene

One of the most important questions about the killing spree – a question many people hope the inquiry will answer – is whether the RCMP could have done anything to stop it sooner.

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The RCMP initially said officers were on scene in Portapique for about nine minutes before the gunman escaped using a backroad. This was later amended to 19 minutes, based on witness statements.

But police have also said they knew very little about the suspect before arriving in Portapique and that it wasn’t until the following morning – when the gunman’s common-law partner emerged from a hiding spot in the woods – that they obtained new information that helped them locate him.

“Police began looking at a number of possible suspects as a result of the information they were receiving,” Campbell said on April 24, 2020.

During this same press conference, Campbell said police were responding to “a report of a shooting at a home in the area.” An hour after police arrived in Portapique they also sent out a tweet informing the public that they were responding to a “weapons complaint” and that people should stay inside and lock their doors.

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But details released by the inquiry make it clear that first responders had far more information than the RCMP originally told the public.

This includes the transcript of a 911 call made by Jamie Blair at 10:01 p.m. – 24 minutes before police arrived on scene.

According to the inquiry, Blair told the 911 call-taker ther husband had just been shot and killed by their neighbour “Gabriel” who was a local denturist who owned a fake police car.

“There’s a police car in the f***ing driveway,” Blair told police.

Read more: New timeline shows what RCMP knew — and didn’t share — about the Nova Scotia shooting spree

Blair was on the line with 911 when the gunman shot her multiple times through her bedroom door at 10.04 p.m. Her cellphone would later be recovered from beneath her body.

The Blair’s two children, who were ages nine and 11 and survived the attack, were hiding on the far side of their parent’s bed when their mother was murdered.

They later escaped to a neighbour’s home after the gunman lit their home on fire.

At 10:16 p.m. – nine minutes before the RCMP arrived on scene – the children called 911. They told police the gunman had killed their parents and that he was still killing people.

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“He’s outside shooting everybody,” the children said to a 911 call-taker at 10:22 p.m.

Gunshots heard

There are other significant differences between what the RCMP said happened on the night of April 18, 2020 and what the inquiry says happened.

According to various witness accounts – some included in the inquiry’s summary of what happened and some not – the gunman was in Portapique firing his weapons for at least 15 minutes after the RCMP arrived on scene.

But the RCMP has previously said these noises were likely caused by ammunition exploding in fires set by the gunman.

“Some of our witness statements indicate that the gunman had purchased some ammunition, or had possessed a significant amount of ammunition,” Campbell said on April 28, 2020. “Some of that ammunition was more than likely igniting and potentially exploding.”

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Read more: RCMP theory of when Nova Scotia gunman escaped scene of first killings has changed

But transcripts of police radio communication from that night tell a different story.

At 10:39 p.m. –  14 minutes after police arrived in Portapique – an RCMP officer said he heard a flurry of gunshots coming from the direction of the gunman’s property, according to the inquiry.

“OK, lots of gunshots in here – three gunshots!” the officer shouted. “Two more gunshots!”

According to the inquiry’s timeline, this is the moment Corrie Ellison, who left his home to check out the burning fires, was shot and killed by the gunman.

Other witnesses heard these gunshots, too.

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The Blair children told 911 they heard gunshots at this exact moment, according to the inquiry. Gunshots could also be heard on the audio recording of the 911 call, the inquiry said.

“It’s Gabriel,” the children said at 10:39. “There’s gunshots!”

Laurie George, who spoke with Global News several months after the shooting, also said he heard gunshots at this exact time while taking photos of the fires in the area.

He provided a time-stamped photo taken at 10:40 p.m. that showed one of the gunman’s properties burning. George said he heard gunshots nearby while taking this picture.

“We heard four gunshots that were a lot of smaller caliber, back to back, like bang, bang, bang, bang,” George said. “And then a few seconds pause and then a sound like a shotgun blast.”

Read more: Review finds RCMP understaffed prior to N.S. shootings, councillor claims they never asked for more

The public inquiry into the shooting spree is holding public hearings from February until the end of May.

Legal counsel for the inquiry says the details contained in the documents it releases are based on an “extensive review” of subpoenaed information and consultations with inquiry participants, including the RCMP.

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While the inquiry’s account “may be imperfect,” it’s the best effort to present information about what happened during the killing spree, the inquiry said.

The inquiry must complete an interim report no later than May 1 and a final report by Nov. 1. These documents will be submitted to the provincial and federal governments, which will decide when to release them to the public.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is encouraged to use the following resources:

  • Mental Health & Addictions Provincial Crisis Line: 1-888-429-8167
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) Available 24/7 or Text CONNECT 686868
  • Emergency: 911

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