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Families describe tense encounters with RCMP on N.S. mass shooting’s second day

Click to play video: 'RCMP missed gunman by mere moments'
RCMP missed gunman by mere moments
Nova Scotia RCMP officers were just minutes away from capturing the gunman the morning of Sunday, April 19, 2020, the Mass Casualty Commission said during the inquiry Thursday. Graeme Benjamin reports. – Mar 31, 2022

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

Documents released Thursday describe tense and tragic moments as RCMP officers and then distraught family members arrived at the scene of brutal killings during the second day of the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting.

The killer had by mid-morning of April 19, 2020, killed 17 people and was in his replica RCMP vehicle on his way through Debert, about 20 kilometres north of Truro, having eluded police once again.

According to the summaries prepared by the public inquiry into the killings, at about 10 a.m. the perpetrator pulled beside Kristen Beaton, a continuing care assistant pregnant with her second child, left his vehicle and shot her through the window of her car. Beaton had been travelling between communities to provide care for clients since early that morning.

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After killing Beaton, the murderer drove back to the car of Heather O’Brien, a VON licensed practical nurse parked a little over 300 metres behind her. He shot her multiple times as she was on a cellphone call with a friend. He then drove from the scene towards a secondary highway that went east to Truro.

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Through the day, the RCMP — now fully aware the perpetrator was dressed like them and driving a marked Mountie car — had tense moments with family members.

That morning, on Hunter Road in West Wentworth, shortly after the murders of Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod, Const. Brenna Counter drew her carbine rifle on Jenkins’ father and demanded he identify himself as he approached the burned house where his daughter had been killed.

By 10:15 a.m., after constables Ian Fahie and Devonna Coleman arrived at the scene of O’Brien’s death, they were employing what the RCMP refers to as “lethal overwatch,” in which one member surveys the area with their weapon as another responds to the emergency.

In his Oct. 1, 2021, interview with the inquiry, Fahie recalled he and his partner took turns monitoring the dying woman. He said the RCMP’s emergency medical response team told him they couldn’t call in regular or air ambulances at that moment because of the risk posed by the active shooter.

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He recalled telling arriving firefighters to leave because of potential danger, and then, as he was monitoring the area with his carbine, O’Brien’s daughter — Michaella Scott — arrived and called out, “That’s my mom’s car.”

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In her interview last year with the commission, Scott said she tried to approach and asked where her mother was, but she was turned back by RCMP officers with guns raised toward her.

“This day burns in the back of my head,” she said. “They took away my right to hold my mother’s hand, to say goodbye, to tell her I loved her one last time.”

Scott left the scene, but — on the urging of her sisters — returned at 11:17 a.m., and she told the inquiry staff that at that time a male constable “handed her a card, apologized to her, and said: ‘This is now being investigated as a homicide.”’

In his interview, Fahie said in the second encounter, he explained to Scott “that the victim was her mother, that she was deceased, that it was murder, and that she was not in any pain,” and that he took her name and number and told her to return home to her family.

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Scott told the commission she was in a state of shock, and that she then drove to her sister’s house.

According to the inquiry’s summary, Kristen Beaton’s husband, Nick Beaton, also arrived at the scene. Fahie said in his interview that they also asked him to leave the scene.

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As the hearings concluded Thursday, Beaton said the commission of inquiry has failed to properly scrutinize the evidence or ask sufficiently probing questions about RCMP actions.

“Right from April 19, 2020, (it’s been) smoke and mirrors,” he told reporters outside the hearing room at the Halifax Convention Centre. “We’re just like mushrooms, kept in the dark … There was lots missing today.”

Beaton said the inquiry’s public hearings, which started on Feb. 22, have proven to be a disappointment to him and other victims’ relatives.

“We pray that changes are going to be made, but at this point I don’t see that they’re digging enough or caring enough to do it,” he said. “Me and the other family members looked at each other today and said, `Is that it?’ We haven’t learned anything we didn’t already know.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2022.

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— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

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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