Gabriel Wortman, 51, a denturist in the Halifax area, set fires and shot at police while dressed, terrifyingly, as an RCMP officer and driving a mocked-up cruiser
One of the worst mass killings in Canadian history unfolded over 12 hours starting late Saturday night, as Gabriel Wortman, 51, a denturist in the Halifax area, murdered 17 people in a rampage through northern Nova Scotia, setting fires and shooting at police while dressed, terrifyingly, as an RCMP officer and driving a mocked-up cruiser.
The spree killing that began Saturday night in the seaside village of Portapique, N.S., ended 100 km away on Sunday morning at a gas station outside Halifax, where Wortman was located by a huge force of police officers and dogs and died in a confrontation.
Police are still bracing to discover more bodies, as the various crime scenes have not yet been cleared, and further investigative leads remain.
n to be chased down. Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather initially said the death toll is almost certain to be more than 10, and that some of the victims appeared to have no prior connection to the shooter.
51-year-old Gabriel Wortman is the suspect in our active shooter investigation in #Portapique. There are several victims. He is considered armed & dangerous. If you see him, call 911. DO NOT approach. He’s described as a white man, bald, 6’2-6’3 with green eyes. pic.twitter.com/Y2nJNULlkn
— RCMP, Nova Scotia (@RCMPNS) April 19, 2020
The rampage “appears to be at least in part, very random in nature,” Leather said. He would not speculate on motive and declined to say whether there was any commonality among victims that would indicate a hate motive.
The toll exceeds the 14 dead at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, making this the deadliest spree killing in Canadian history.
One of the dead, the first to be formally identified is RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran and married mother of two, who was killed Sunday morning responding to the active shooter incident.
“Heidi answered the call of duty and lost her life protecting those she served,” said Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman. Another male officer received a non-life threatening injury.
What has unfolded overnight and into this morning is incomprehensible,” Bergerman said. “Countless families are in mourning today.”
Another victim was identified informally as Lisa McCully, according to a Facebook post by her sister Jenny Kierstead. McCully was a grade three and four teacher at Debert Elementary School. She also volunteered as a youth leader at a United Church of Canada bible camp in Berwick, N.S.
At one point in the evening Wortman exchanged gunfire with police, Leather said, but he managed to evade immediate capture and was at large throughout the night.
An overnight fire was reported in Wentworth, north of Portapique, although police did not confirm specific locations.
Police believe Wortman was acting alone and that the risk to the public is over, after an especially harrowing night for residents ordered to shelter in their basements away from windows until it was safe.
Christine Mills, a resident of Portapique, said she saw officers patrolling the streets and helicopters flying overhead. She was fearful that the shooter might have gone through the woods and attempted to enter her home.
“It’s nerve-wracking because you don’t know if somebody has lost their mind and is going to beat in your front door,” she said.
By the morning, according to public alerts from police, the attention of the search had shifted back to a campground near Portapique. Soon after, however, police cautioned Wortman was far on the other side the regional centre of Truro, and gave the impression he was heading south toward Halifax.
At first he was reported to be in the fake police cruiser, a photo of which police released showing the convincing replica in a workshop. Soon after he was said to be driving a silver SUV.
Police appear to have tried to take him down late Sunday morning in a Sobey’s plaza near Shubenacadie, where shopkeepers were ordered to shelter in place. An image posted by the Halifax Chronicle Herald, taken by someone at the scene, showed two cars fully consumed with fire throwing up clouds of smoke.
#Colchester: Gabriel Wortman may be driving what appears to be an RCMP vehicle & may be wearing an RCMP uniform. There’s 1 difference btwn his car and our RCMP vehicles: the car #. The suspect’s car is 28B11, behind rear passenger window. If you see 28B11 call 911 immediately. pic.twitter.com/yyeOeBt8Ui
— RCMP, Nova Scotia (@RCMPNS) April 19, 2020
Tom Taggart, a councillor who represents Portapique in the Municipality of Colchester, said that the community was devastated.
“It’s a tragedy — there’s no other way about it,” Taggart said. “I can’t stop thinking about the people.”
Taggart described Portapique as a “subdivision in the woods where people have acre lots along the shore.” It only houses about 60 to 100 permanent residents in the winter, he said. Many of them travel back and forth between the community and other residences in Nova Scotia.
Wortman owned three properties in the Portapique area, Taggart said. He does not know Wortman personally, he said, but has spoken to him occasionally on the phone. Wortman would call him with municipal concerns such as the roads being too rough or snow plows not showing up on time.
The community is known for being a safe one, Taggart said. It’s often part of the reason why its residents chose it. Waking up to the news of the shooting left him in disbelief.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable this could happen in our community. I never dreamt this would happen here. CNN or Fox News or something like that — but not here.”
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