This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Police have confirmed that a suspect who carried out a shooting spree in central Nova Scotia killed at least 16 people, including a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, while injuring another officer.
It is the deadliest mass killing in modern Canadian history.
The RCMP confirmed to VICE that the investigation is ongoing and spread across several kilometres, and is not ruling out discovering more crime scenes.
At a press conference Sunday evening, Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, Nova Scotia RCMP's criminal operations officer, said there were multiple crime scenes across the province connected to the shooting spree. Leather said they believe 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman was responsible and confirmed that Wortman posed as a RCMP officer during the attacks. Wortman was shot dead by RCMP Sunday morning after officers intercepted him at a gas station, roughly 35 kilometres north of Halifax.
“I can confirm that at one point during the evening hours he appeared to have been wearing, if not all, then a portion of a police uniform and that he was driving a mockup of a vehicle to look like a RCMP cruiser,” Leather said.
The RCMP wouldn’t confirm the motivation for the crimes. Leather noted it “appears to be very random in nature,” but that Wortman’s use of a replica RCMP vehicle and uniform shows the shootings were at least partially pre-planned. He also told reporters that the coronavirus pandemic does not appear to be related to Wortman’s murder spree.
Leather said the shootings started Saturday evening when officers were called to a home in Portapique, a small community 120 kilometres north of Halifax, where they found a number of casualties and multiple sites on fire but no suspect. The RCMP said it searched multiple communities throughout Saturday night before finding Wortman Sunday morning.
Police would not expand on the identity of the civilian casualties, nor how they died, but said that Wortman was killed by officers. An RCMP spokesperson identified the officer killed as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force and a married mother of two. Chief Superintendent Lee Bergerman said what unfolded overnight and into this morning was “unthinkable.”
Multiple videos and photos posted online show a large group of police officers swarming the gas station and a body lying covered on the ground. Other images show two police cruisers burning on the approach of a highway in the nearby town of Shubenacadie, about 30 kilometres north of Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
One witness told the CBC that she came across the two burning cars and heard gunshots.
“We were right behind the police car that was on fire. There was one officer we could see on scene and then all of a sudden, he went running toward one of the burning vehicles," Darcy Sack told CBC. “We heard gunshots.”
“I had that feeling that something was wrong with the (police officer’s) partner—the way he looked.”
Heavily armoured police vehicles chased Wortman through and nearby several Nova Scotia communities Sunday morning.
Charlotte Harrop was aware that something was awry when she got to work at a Sobeys grocery store just a short drive away from the Big Stop gas station where Wortman was killed.
“I saw on social media that there were cars on fire in Shubenacadie with gunshots having been heard,” Harrop told VICE. “When I looked up from my computer, a pair of armoured police vehicles had pulled up out front and they exited their vehicles and combed through the parking lot and entered the Sobeys. They warned Sobeys to go into full lockdown and not to open until they got the go ahead.
“You see armed police in major airports like Brussels, not little ole Nova Scotia,” Harrop said.
Harrop said that she drives the bridge near where the two cop cars were found on fire every day on her way to work: “It dawned on me hours later that if I’d left like 45 minutes later that it could have been me,” she said.
The people of Shubenacadie, which saw their village of just over 2,000 people loudly disrupted by violence, is still coming to terms with what happened in the peaceful abode.
“Shubenacadie is devastated, as you can imagine,” said Harrop. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen in little countryside villages.”
Do you have information about the shooting and Gabriel Wortman? You can contact Mack Lamoureux securely on Signal on +1 780-504-8369, on Wire at @mlamoureux or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Police initially said the suspect was arrested at the end of the shooting spree but later revealed Wortman was killed. The Nova Scotia detachment of the RCMP updated the public several times on Wortman’s whereabouts and warned that he was dressed like a police officer and driving what appeared to be an RCMP cruiser. Police tweeted a picture of the vehicle they believed Wortman was driving.
“Gabriel Wortman may be driving what appears to be an RCMP vehicle & may be wearing an RCMP uniform,” read the tweet early this morning. “There's 1 difference btwn his car and our RCMP vehicles: the car #. The suspect's car is 28B11, behind the rear passenger window.”
Police initially warned the public of Wortman on Saturday evening when they advised of an active shooter situation, telling residents of Portapique to “stay in their homes with doors locked.”
According to multiple reports, Wortman owned multiple properties in Nova Scotia including a denture clinic in Dartmouth. The clinic owned by Wortman has since been taped off by police. People who knew of Wortman in the community said the businessman split time between Dartmouth and Portapique.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement Sunday evening and said he was “saddened to learn about the senseless violence in Nova Scotia, which claimed the lives of multiple people.”
“Our hearts go out to the people who have lost loved ones, and to the RCMP family mourning a fallen officer,” said Trudeau. “I also hope for a full recovery for the people who were injured, including one RCMP member who is in hospital being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.”
“As a country, in moments like these, we come together to support one another. Together we will mourn with the families of the victims, and help them get through this difficult time.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil called the shooting “one of the most senseless acts of violence in the province’s history.”
"I never imagined when I went to bed last night that I would wake up to the horrific news that an active shooter was on the loose in Nova Scotia,” said McNeil. “Words cannot console the families affected by what’s transpired in the last 24 hours.”
Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique massacre in 1989 was Canada’s deadliest mass shooting until today, with 14 women murdered. In 2017, a white nationalist opened fire at a mosque in Quebec City, killing six worshippers, while in 2018 a van attack in Toronto killed 10. Closer to the recent shootings in Nova Scotia, in 2018, a man killed four in Fredericton, New Brunswick, including two police officers. In 2014, a man with anti-government political views, shot five RCMP officers in Moncton, killing three.