Bookended by the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting of April 16, 2007 and the Columbine Highschool massacre of April 20, 1999, the recent Nova Scotia Shooting spree has been declared the deadliest mass shooting on Canadian soil with 19 dead so far.
Amongst the victims was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable, a teacher who taught at the nearby Debert elementary school, a nurse from truro and a social worker.
Over April 18 – April 19, the gunman, a 51-year-old clinical dental technologist named Gabriel Wortman, set fire to five buildings and killed a total (so far) of 19 people after a 13-hour rampage of chaos.
The shooting spree started an hour before midnight in the small community of Portapique on April 18, 2020. Civilians made 911 calls reporting firearm complaints and burning structures and described an unidentified gunman who was reportedly shooting at the residents who were fleeing their burning homes. RCMP quickly arrived at the scene where they found the bodies of victims but no sign of the perpetrator. Three houses had been burned and five victims had been gunned down trying to escape.
Half an hour later the police issued a warning to scared residents encouraging them to lock their doors, stay inside and to take refuge in their basements. The warning was released via a tweet from their official account instead of using the “Alert Ready” system that would have sent texts directly to residents’ phones- a move the police would later be criticized for.
The attacks ceased for several hours but the following morning the chaos began again, only this time 23 miles away in yet another rural community in Wentworth.
Two residents were killed in their home, along with a neighbour who tried to intervene. Another resident was shot while walking.
At around 8:45am the gunman was officially identified and announced as Gabriel Wortman. He was clad in a RCMP uniform to disguise himself as an officer of the law and was even driving what appeared to be a RCMP vehicle. The police would later tweet a photograph explaining the slight difference between Wortman’s cruiser and their own, pointing out the registration number 28B11 displayed behind the passenger seat window.
“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.” The Nova Scotia RCMP account tweeted.
Media outlets would later report that Gabriel Wortman was an avid collector of police memorabilia and aspired to be an officer. Apparently, he also owned two police cruisers that he reportedly kept parked up near his dental clinic in Halifax. He had been forced to close his business due to the covid-19 global pandemic just before the shooting.
Like a scene from a horror movie, Wortman, impersonating a RCMP officer, pulled onto Highway 102 and began pulling over civilians and executing them in their vehicles. At 11:24 he ran into 2 legitimate officers, killing one and wounding the other before taking off in a stolen silver SUV. Constable Heidi Stevenson was killed in the line of duty and her partner was reportedly wounded but stable and expected to recover. Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, was also the mother of two children.
Wortman made his getaway and was not spotted again until he reached Milford.
His spree ended in Enfield where he was shot dead by officers at a Big Stop gas station as he was attempting to refuel the stolen vehicle. Initially his death was reported as an arrest but this was later corrected. Details of the death have not been elaborated on; however, gunfire was exchanged.
Although no motive has been officially released, RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather commented that the first set of victims may have been connected to the gunman in some way, however, the later victims seemed to be random. As far as police are aware, Wortman had no history of violence, no extremist political views and was described as a nice and polite individual by neighbours and acquaintances, although he may have struggled with alcoholism. A man named Billy Swinimer who claims to know the perpetrator reported that the gunman had once purchased a police cruiser from an auction and fixed it up to resemble an official RCMP vehicle. He also confirmed that he knew Wortman owned a uniform.
Leather also hinted that the attack may have been premeditated: “That fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act”.
Wortman left a total of 16 crime scenes in his wake. He damaged at least 5 properties across a span of 30-miles and is responsible for at least 19 deaths. Police admitted that they expect the final death toll to go up as they examine the crime scenes.