Nova Scotia killings

Nova Scotia killings
LocationNova Scotia, Canada
Date10:26 p.m., April 18, 2020 (2020-04-18T10:26 p.m.)
11:26 a.m., April 19, 2020 (2020-04-19T11:26 a.m.) ADT (UTC−03:00)
Attack type
Spree shooting, mass murder,[1] arson
WeaponsLong gun and handgun
Deaths23 (including the perpetrator)[2]
Injured2
PerpetratorGabriel Wortman
MotiveUnknown (under investigation)

On April 18 and 19, 2020, Gabriel Wortman committed multiple shootings and set fires at several locations in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Twenty-two people died and two others were injured before the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) shot and killed Wortman at a gas station in Enfield.[2][3]

For part of the thirteen hour-long crime spree, Wortman impersonated a police officer by driving a replica police car and wearing a police uniform. Authorities have yet to establish a motive for the killings; however, it is not being considered as an act of terrorism, and an investigation is underway.[4][5] Wortman did not possess a firearms licence, and it has not yet been determined how he acquired his weapons.[6][7]

While addressing the nation in response to the incident, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening Canadian gun control laws to help prevent similar events from occurring in the future.[8] Officials were criticized for not using Alert Ready to warn the public about the killings, and an investigation into that decision has also begun.[9][10]

The rampage is the deadliest in Canadian history, surpassing the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in which 15 people were killed.[11]

Events

April 18

The incidents began as a case of domestic violence between Wortman and his girlfriend, who had been at a party at a home in the rural beachside community of Portapique, 130 kilometres (81 mi) north of Halifax.[12][13][14][15] The couple got into an argument and left the party to return to Wortman's cottage, where he attacked her, and she fled into the woods. Wortman lit his property on fire, then returned to the party and began shooting, killing seven people.[14][15][16]

Beginning at around 10:26 p.m., a number of Portapique residents called 9-1-1 to report gunshots and several fires.[4][17][18][19][20][21] When RCMP officers arrived on the scene twelve minutes later, they discovered three burning houses on Orchard Beach Drive and Portapique Beach Road, and thirteen total victims who had been shot inside and outside of the homes while fleeing the fires; police said many of them had died while trying to help other victims.[15][22] One officer reported by radio that they could not locate any armed suspects, and that "it's very bad what's going on down here".[22][23][24][25]

First responders also found a man who said he had been shot and injured by someone driving what appeared to be a police car. The victim said the shooter had proceeded toward the beach, which was a dead end.[15] At 11:32 p.m., the RCMP posted a tweet asking residents of the Portapique area to stay inside with their doors locked, as officers set up a search perimeter. There was confusion over whether a suspect had been apprehended and if the driver of the apparent police car was responsible, but as the investigation developed overnight, police determined that the perpetrator had eluded them.[16][17][23]

April 19

By the morning of April 19, police said they were dealing with an active shooter situation.[4][18][20][26] At 6:30 a.m., police located Wortman's girlfriend, who confirmed that he was impersonating a police officer and provided them with a photo of his replica police vehicle.[14][15]

At around 8:00 a.m., a 9-1-1 caller reported an explosion and gunfire at a house on Hunter Road in Wentworth, approximately 37 kilometres (23 mi) north of Portapique. The two residents were killed, as was a neighbour who went to render assistance. At 9:35 a.m., another victim was shot and killed while walking in the community of Wentworth Valley, on the road back south to Portapique.[3][15]

RCMP publicly identified Wortman as the suspect at 8:54 a.m., and in a tweet posted at 10:17, they warned that he was impersonating a police officer and shared the photo of his vehicle.[20][27][28][29][30][31]

Beginning at 10:04 a.m., Wortman was seen in or near Glenholme, Debert, Onslow, and Brookfield, indicating that he was travelling south toward Halifax.[22][32] During this time, he performed two traffic stops on random cars and killed their occupants.[12][25][16] At one point, surveillance video apparently captured Wortman pulling into a parking lot in Millbrook First Nation in the mock police vehicle, briefly getting out to put on a reflective vest, and then driving off.[33]

Sometime before 10:49 a.m., an RCMP officer driving north on Route 2 through Shubenacadie passed Wortman, who shot and injured the officer. He next encountered RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, whose cruiser he crashed into.[16][23][34][35] Witnesses reported that Wortman exited his car and shot Stevenson, killing her, before taking her sidearm and ammunition.[16] Both vehicles also caught fire, though accounts differ as to how.[16][23][30][36] Wortman then shot and killed a passing motorist, and drove off in their silver Chevy Tracker SUV.[16] Police confirmed the vehicle change at 11:06 a.m.[20]

Shortly thereafter, Wortman killed another victim at their Shubenacadie home and stole that person's Mazda 3.[20] By 11:24 a.m., he was seen continuing south along Highway 102 through Milford.[20][23][37][38]

Finally, thirteen hours after police began pursuing him, at 11:26 a.m., Wortman pulled into the Irving Big Stop service area in Enfield, 92 kilometres (57 mi) south of Portapique and 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of Halifax.[23] At least one RCMP officer who was already there to fill up on gas recognized Wortman, and shot and killed him.[38] Wortman's death was confirmed by police at 11:40 a.m.[1][20][27]

Victims

Wortman killed 22 people, including Constable Stevenson. The other officer he shot survived, as did the person he shot in Portapique.[2][18][25][30][39] Thirteen victims were found in Portapique, four in Wentworth, two in Debert, and three in Shubenacadie.[19] The dead are believed to have died from gunshot wounds, but other causes are also being investigated.[18][37]

According to Commissioner Brenda Lucki, some of Wortman's first victims were closely connected to him, but as he continued, those he attacked became more random.[4] The Globe and Mail reported that one victim at the home in Wentworth had previously gone hunting with Wortman, while CBC News reported that another victim owned the property in Portapique that was subject to a dispute between Wortman and his uncle.[25][40] The National Post indicated that the owner of the Mazda 3 was also known to Wortman, because they were a fellow denturist.[20]

Perpetrator

Workers removing signage from the perpetrator's denture clinic in Dartmouth on April 22

The RCMP identified the perpetrator as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman,[30][41][42] a denturist working in the Halifax area. He owned real estate in Portapique and Dartmouth.[30][43] He attended Riverview High School in New Brunswick and aspired to be a police officer, his yearbook entry alluding to this.[44]

Wortman pleaded guilty to assault in 2002 and was sentenced to nine months of probation, in which he was prohibited from possessing weapons and ordered to undergo anger management counselling.[45][46]

He was also involved in two civil matters regarding property disputes, according to interviews and public records. A former acquaintance described how, in 2004, Wortman offered to help him when he had financial difficulties and was about to lose his house, only for Wortman to discreetly take ownership of the home away from him, evict him, and sell the property. In 2015, Wortman had been temporarily loaned a Portapique home a paternal uncle had purchased while he was in the process of selling his Edmonton condominium. Wortman refused to release the Portapique property back to him, claiming he was owed money, until the uncle eventually sold it; one of the buyers later became a victim.[46][47]

Wortman had a hobby of buying law enforcement memorabilia and refurbishing old police cruisers. One person called his home a "shrine" for the RCMP.[48] He stored the two old police cruisers that he bought behind his denture clinic.[44][49] According to a businessman in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Wortman attempted to purchase a decommissioned RCMP cruiser from him in 2017 or 2018, claiming to be a retired officer who wanted to park the vehicle outside his house to deter thieves. However, Wortman ultimately declined to make the purchase because he thought it was too expensive.[50]

Neighbours said Wortman struggled with alcohol use and his business was negatively affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in Nova Scotia, which forced all non-essential denturist services to close.[48]

After the killings, the decorative signage on Wortman's denture clinic on Portmouth Street in Dartmouth, portraying a large smile and a set of dentures, was the subject of complaints from the public. In response, Halifax Regional Police removed the signage on April 22.[51]

Investigations

Criminal

No motive has been established for the killings, though they are not considered an act of terrorism.[4]

On the afternoon of April 20, Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said there were 16 crime scenes, including five structure fires, over a distance of at least 50 kilometres (31 mi). He said he expected the death toll to rise as these crime scenes are investigated.[35]

Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team announced it would conduct an investigation into the police shooting of Wortman, as well as another incident involving two RCMP officers who discharged their weapons inside a fire hall in Onslow; Wortman was not there at the time.[25][30][52]

On the evening of April 21, the Canadian Armed Forces were dispatched to assist the RCMP in their investigation by providing them with additional personnel and supplies.[53]

Leather noted that Wortman's use of a police cruiser and wearing a police uniform allowed him to help evade detection for a long time. Owning police vehicles or uniforms is not a crime, but impersonating a police officer is.[54][55] CBC News reported that at least one RCMP officer had taken note of Wortman's replica vehicle, and advised him not to drive it on the road.[50]

The man who Wortman had previously considered buying police car from said that he was warned by police during the incident that he was considered a possible target; however, he was ultimately not a victim, and police later refuted suggestions that Wortman had kept a written list of targets.[15][25][56]

Leather also said that Wortman had no licence to own guns and that his weapons were illegally purchased, a matter that will be investigated further.[6][7] Global News reported that a rifle, shotgun, and handgun were used in the shootings.[14] Police later said one of the weapons had originated in Canada, but all of the others likely came from the United States.[15][36]

The Nova Scotia RCMP Major Crime Unit launched a tip hotline to gather further information about the killings.[57]

Lack of emergency alert

Following questions about why Nova Scotia did not use Alert Ready, Canada's emergency population warning system, to warn the public about the killings and instead used popular social media platforms Twitter and Facebook to provide updates, RCMP officials said they had been dealing with an unfolding situation and details kept being updated many times. However, the areas affected had poor cellular Internet service and were mostly populated by seniors who might not have used Twitter. Relatives of the victims pointed out that Alert Ready would have sent text messages advising residents of what was happening and to stay indoors, which could have saved lives.[58][59][60] Chief Superintendent Leather said an investigation would be conducted into the decision-making process on alerting the public.[9][10]

On April 22, Leather said officers in Dartmouth were asked by the province about a warning at 10:15 a.m., but did not agree on details like wording before Wortman died 71 minutes later.[45] The United States Consulate in Halifax said it emailed American citizens in Nova Scotia warning them of the situation using the RCMP's information.[58]

Aftermath

Political reactions

Prime Minister Trudeau's remarks on the killings (April 20)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences.[30] During his morning address from Rideau Cottage on April 20, he reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening gun control.[8] He asked the media to not use Wortman's name or image: "Do not give this person the gift of infamy."[61]

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters, "This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province's history." He expressed his condolences to the residents affected and the families of the victims.[62]

Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, expressed her condolences, saying that she and Prince Philip were "saddened by the appalling events", and that her thoughts and prayers were with the people of Nova Scotia and all Canadians. She also paid tribute to the "bravery and sacrifice" of the RCMP and other emergency services.[63]

The White House condemned the killings and expressed US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump's condolences.[12]

Memorials and fundraisers

Flags across Canada were lowered to half-mast,[64] and the House of Commons observed a moment of silence for the victims.[65]

On April 20, the CN Tower was illuminated in blue and white, the colours of the Nova Scotia flag, and also in RCMP red, blue, and gold in honour of Stevenson, on the quarter- and half-hours. On April 21, at Niagara Falls, both the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls were also illuminated in blue and white as a symbol of bi-national solidarity with Nova Scotia.[66]

In the days after the incident, many fundraisers for the victims and their families were started on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe.[67][68] There was also at least one fake or fraudulent fundraiser started, which was subsequently removed. Jeff Thomson of the RCMP's Anti-Fraud Centre warned Canadians to be diligent when donating to charities related to the tragedy.[68]

As large gatherings are restricted in the province due to the coronavirus pandemic, a public virtual vigil aired on CBC Atlantic on April 24 at 7:00 p.m. ADT.[69][70]

See also

References

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