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New report details generations of violence in Nova Scotia gunman’s family

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WATCH: The mass casualty commission is back in Halifax and for the next two weeks, the inquiry will be looking into the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence. As part of this, the commission is looking into the gunman’s past and how violence was allegedly present in his upbringing. Alicia Draus reports. – Jul 11, 2022

Warning: This story contains graphic depictions of child abuse and domestic violence.

Gabriel Wortman, who shot and killed 22 people during a 13-hour rampage in Nova Scotia, experienced extreme childhood abuse and neglect, according to a new report by the public inquiry looking into the April 2020 killing spree.

The report is based on police interviews with the gunman’s family, friends and acquaintances. It echoes past reporting by Global News that details a legacy of alleged violence in the Wortman family going back at least four generations.

Read more: N.S. mass shooting inquiry warns this week will cover ‘difficult’ material

Multiple people who knew the gunman, including his common-law spouse and an uncle, told police that his father, Paul Wortman, forced him to commit violence when he was a “little boy.”

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“Paul didn’t think he was taking care of the dog as well as he should have. So he made (Gabriel) shoot his dog,” the gunman’s uncle, Neil Wortman, said during an interview with police. “What does that do to a kid?”

School photo of a young Gabriel Wortman.
Photo of young Gabriel Wortman. Date unknown. Glynn Wortman/Facebook

Neil and another uncle, Glynn Wortman, told police their brother Paul pointed a gun at his wife Evelyn Wortman’s head and threatened to kill her if she ever left him.

“My understanding was when (Gabriel) was a little boy, (Paul) held a gun to (his) head and then to Evelyn’s,” Glynn said. “But then Paul denied that story.”

The report was completed as part of the inquiry’s mandate to examine the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence in the killing spree.

Read more: How ending child abuse and improving mental health care could prevent mass shootings

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It has been widely reported that the gunman had a history of abusing his common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield. This includes a violent attack on the night the shooting spree began, which left Banfield with serious injuries.

He also had a history of violence toward others: threatening to kill his parents, threatening to kill a police officer, and pleading guilty to assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2001.

The gunman’s violent past will be detailed in another report set to be released by the inquiry later this week.

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Explaining violence does not mean excusing violent behaviour – Apr 12, 2021

But allegations of abuse within the Wortman family, including against the gunman as a child, has gone largely unreported.

Criminologists, psychologists and sociologists who’ve previously spoken with Global News for the investigative podcast 13 Hours: Inside the Nova Scotia Massacre, said it’s important to understand this history of abuse — not as a means of excusing the gunman’s crimes, but as a way of preventing similar tragedies in the future.

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“It’s really important not to blame everything on childhood trauma,” said Ardath Whynacht, a sociologist at Mount Allison University, during a March 2021 interview with Global News.

“The overwhelming majority of folks who experience family violence and sexual abuse do not grow up to go on shooting sprees.

“What we’re talking about is untangling the complexity of layers that creates a human capable of engaging in this form of violence. Understanding the reasons doesn’t mean that we’re excusing the violence.”

Wortman family violence

The inquiry’s report includes claims that generations of Wortman men violently abused their families.

In a 2010 letter, quoted in the report, Neil described his grandfather, George Wortman, as a “tyrant who brutalized his family.”

During multiple interviews with Global News in late 2020 and early 2021, Neil and Glynn said their father, Stanley Wortman, beat them and their mother.

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“He used to punch her, knock her down to the floor. I was a little boy,” Glynn told Global News. “I remember in the kitchen he knocked her down in front of Paul and I.”

Photo of Glynn Wortman (left) and Paul Wortman (right). Taken approximately 1953.
Photo of Glynn Wortman (left) and Paul Wortman (right). Taken approximately 1953. Glynn Wortman/Facebook

During these interviews, the brothers said the abuse they endured was so extreme they considered killing their father.

“My uncle Arnold gave me, as a gift when I was 12 years old, a .22-rifle,” Neil said. “I used to lie in my bed at night and think, ‘I really should shoot that man.’ But I never had the courage.”

Glynn stabbed his father one night when his parents were arguing. He said he had had enough after decades of abuse.

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“I thought, you old bastard,” Glynn said. “He got up and started screaming ‘get out of my room!’ And so I ran over to him and stuck the knife in his chest.”

Neil said Glynn spent nine months in prison for the attack.

Stanley died of heart disease in 1977.

Brothers claim abuse continued

Neil and Glynn allege the abuse didn’t end with their father.

Both men said Paul physically assaulted his wife and emotionally tormented their son.

“There has been a history in the Wortman family; from my grandfather, who was brutal, to my father, who was brutal, to Paul, who was brutal,” Neil said.

Read more: Public inquiry into N.S. mass shooting issues RCMP new subpoena for information

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Similar allegations are contained in the inquiry’s new report.

Alan Wortman, another of Paul’s brothers, told police Paul assaulted Evelyn at a family Christmas party.

“He struck her, knocked her onto the floor and kicked her and kicked her and kicked her,” Alan said.

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The report also describes an incident when the gunman, who was an adult at the time, violently attacked his father during a family vacation to Cuba.

Banfield told police the attack happened during an argument about the abuse the gunman allegedly experienced as a child.

“(Gabriel) was smashing his head against the concrete,” she said. “They started talking about (Gabriel’s) childhood and Paul denied anything that he ever did.”

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Global News tried to reach Paul and Evelyn for an interview by sending letters to their home in the months after the shooting spree.

A letter was also hand-delivered to their home, but Evelyn refused to take it, saying: “I’m not accepting it. Just go away.”

The inquiry, which has the power to compel witness testimony, also hasn’t spoken with Paul or Evelyn.

“The Commission has not interviewed members of the Wortman family,” the report said. “The Commission’s attempts to speak to some members of the Wortman family were not successful.”

Paul did speak with police, roughly three weeks after the shootings.

He said he never physically abused his son.

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“I never hit Gabriel, but I would be yelling, which is probably just as bad as hitting,” he said. “I had a hell of a temper.”

Paul also said he grew up “in a violent family where there was more than screaming going on.”

Police didn’t ask if he ever physically or emotionally abused his wife. They also didn’t ask him to elaborate on the violence he experienced growing up.

Paul said he and his wife would have done anything to prevent the killing spree.

Evelyn didn’t speak to police.

— with files from Global News’ Alex Kress and Sarah Ritchie, formerly with Global News.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

  • Mental Health & Addictions Provincial Crisis Line: 1-888-429-8167
  • Visit the Department of Justice’s Victim Services Directory for a list of support services for people experiencing abuse in your area.
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) Available 24/7 or Text CONNECT 686868

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