At least 16 people dead after N.S. gunman’s rampage, and police say toll could grow

By | April 19, 2020

At least 16 people were killed during a gunman’s bloody 12-hour rampage through several Nova Scotia communities, and police warn there may be more victims. 

In an update on Sunday evening, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said police know of at least 16 victims, besides the shooter. She also confirmed the incident is not terror-related at this time.

Nova Scotia RCMP said people were killed in several locations across the province, including a veteran RCMP officer.

Police said there may be more victims who have not been discovered yet and their investigation continues. 

RCMP identified the gunman as Gabriel Wortman, 51. His rampage began late Saturday night in the small community of Portapique, N.S., about 40 kilometres west of Truro, N.S. He led police on a chase Sunday morning along one of the province’s busiest highways.

The chase ended near a gas station about 35 kilometres north of Halifax in Enfield, N.S., around 11:40 a.m. local time. Police confirmed Sunday evening that the gunman was dead.

RCMP are shown near a gas station in Enfield, N.S., shortly after the gunman’s police chase came to an end around 11:40 a.m. local time. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said gunfire was exchanged between police and the suspect at at least one point.

Police watchdog investigating death of gunman

The province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) said Sunday evening it was investigating the shooting of a man in Enfield by RCMP officers.

According to a release, the suspect was involved in a serious criminal event in Shubenacadie, N.S.  A confrontation with police followed in Enfield, “resulting in officers discharging their firearms.”

The suspect was then found dead at the scene.

The police watchdog said it was contacted by RCMP and has assumed responsibility for the investigation of the suspect’s shooting.

The organization is responsible for investigating all serious incidents involving police in Nova Scotia, whether or not there is an allegation of wrongdoing.

Motive turned to ‘randomness’

Lucki said she believed the shooter had an initial “motivation” at the beginning that “turned to randomness.” 

“Our investigation will tell that. We don’t know for sure, and we’re going to have to do a lot of work on finding the motivation — a lot of background, a lot of profiling-type events and a lot of crime scene processing,” she said.

The RCMP will also be calling on their subject-matter experts in forensics and criminal profiling, Lucki said.

“Whatever it takes so that we can give the families of the victims answers to the many questions that they probably have.”

Gunman did not know some of his victims: police

On Sunday morning, police had warned that the gunman was driving a vehicle that looked like an RCMP vehicle at one point, and was wearing an RCMP uniform.

“The fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act,” Leather said.

Due to privacy reasons, Leather said he was not able to discuss Wortman’s relationship with the victims, besides saying some of the victims did not appear to have a relationship with the gunman.

Police victim identified

Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, has been identified as the police officer who was killed responding to the active shooter incident.

RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was shot and killed by the gunman, is pictured in an undated official photo. (RCMP in Nova Scotia handout via Reuters)

“Heidi answered the call of duty and lost her life while protecting those she served. Earlier this afternoon, I met with Heidi’s family, and there are no words to describe their pain,” Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman told reporters Sunday evening.

“Two children have lost their mother. And a husband has lost his wife. Parents have lost their daughter and countless others lost an incredible friend and colleague.”

Stevenson is seen in a 2015 photo posted to the Nova Scotia RCMP’s Facebook page. Police confirmed on Sunday that she was killed during the gunman’s rampage that claimed at least 16 lives. (Nova Scotia RCMP/Facebook)

Bergerman also said a second male officer was injured and is in hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

WATCH | Police announce veteran RCMP officer killed during gunman’s rampage:

Const. Heidi Stevenson is survived by her husband and two children. Another officer was injured during the incident that occurred over the span of 12 hours across several communities.    1:05

‘One of the most senseless acts of violence’ in N.S. history

Premier Stephen McNeil addressed the investigation Sunday afternoon.

“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. This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history,” McNeil said.

“To the families of the victims, and to those who are still feeling afraid, my heart goes out to you. Know that all Nova Scotians are with you.”

McNeil also thanked RCMP for stopping the gunman and doing their best to protect citizens.

In a media briefing Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also thanked police for their work.

“My heart goes out to everyone affected in what is a terrible situation,” Trudeau said in a brief statement.

Trudeau also reached out to the RCMP commissioner and Premier McNeil to offer his condolences on behalf of the federal government.

‘We heard gunshots’

Darcy Sack, a Shubenacadie, N.S., resident, said she and her friend came across two burning police vehicles and the silver suspect vehicle while out driving on Sunday morning near Highway 102, one of the province’s main arteries.

“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,” Sack said. “We heard gunshots.”

Sack said her heart was pounding the whole time.

“I had that feeling that something was wrong with the [police officer’s] partner — the way he looked. My heart went out to him,” she said.

Sack said they then turned on to the highway and then saw the shooter in the silver car again being chased by police. She said he was dressed like a police officer.

Eyewitness saw homes burning

Mike MacKay, who lives just off the Glooscap Trail in Portapique said he saw police cars on the Portapique Beach Road around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, across the Portapique River from his home. 

“We saw a fire down the road, and thought that’s all that it was. Then we saw a second fire and a third fire,” said MacKay in a phone interview from his home Sunday morning.

WATCH | N.S. resident ‘up all night’ following active shooter incident: 

CBC has learned RCMP and fire fighters were called to a property in Wentworth, N.S., on Sunday morning shortly before 10 a.m. to respond to a house fire. 

Police have not released any information about whether it is connected to the shooter investigation.

The RCMP would not comment on the report of multiple house fires when asked by CBC News on Sunday morning. 

‘You’re on edge’

MacKay said he did not sleep at all overnight Saturday.

“You’re on edge. It’s a small community,” said MacKay. “It becomes quite a concern.”

Coun. Tom Taggart, who represents the area for the Municipality of Colchester, described Portapique as a quiet community with many seniors.

Taggart said there are many seasonal homes in the area, which has around 100 residents but swells to 250 in the warmer months.

“It’s a beautiful, quiet, rural community,” said Taggart, adding that the situation is not something he’d expect to happen in “cottage country.”

Wortman owns multiple properties

A person with the name Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist in the Halifax area on the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website.

A person with the name Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist in the Halifax area on the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. He is listed as the owner of this property in Dartmouth, where police were Sunday afternoon. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

According to property records, Wortman owned a denture clinic and two other properties in Dartmouth and three properties in Portapique.

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