A gunman disguised as a police officer went on a 12-hour rampage in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, shooting people in their homes, setting fires and killing at least 16 people, including a policewoman, in the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.
Gabriel Wortman (pictured above), 51, has been identified as the suspect and was confirmed dead by RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, after a manhunt for the fleeing suspect that started on Saturday midnight and ended on Sunday morning. Police did not provide a motive for the killings.
“Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come,” a visibly shaken Lee Bergerman, an assistant RCMP commissioner, told a news conference on Sunday.
Overnight Saturday, police began advising residents of the rural town of Portapique, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Halifax — already on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic — to lock their doors and stay in their basements.
Several bodies were later found inside and outside one home in the small town of Portapique. Bodies were also found at other locations. The assault began late Saturday, and authorities believe the shooter may have targeted his first victims but then began attacking randomly. Several homes in the area were set on fire as well.
RCMP spokesman Daniel Brien confirmed that 16 people including an officer identified as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23-year veteran of the force had been killed in addition to the suspect. Another officer was also injured and in the hospital receiving treatment for non-life-threatening injuries he suffered in the incident.
The shooting, one of Canada’s deadliest, began when police were first called to a property around 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
“When police arrived at the scene they located several casualties inside and outside of the home,” RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather told reporters on Sunday Canadian time.
Police said Wortman was thought to live part-time in Portapique. Authorities said he wore a police uniform at one point and made his car look like a Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser.
“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.
The police went to several crime scenes miles apart beginning in Portapique and stretching to Enfield, where the suspect was later found, according to police chief Leather. Police first announced that they had arrested him at a gas station in Enfield, outside Halifax, but later said he had died. It was not clear how, and they did not explain further.
“This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
Ontario truck driver Tom Nurani told CTV News that he was at the truck stop when he heard a staff member shouting.
“She goes, ‘Oh my God, lock the doors, he’s here! And I peek out of the window and I saw some RCMP vehicles and there was four or five uniforms with guns,” Nurani said.
Witness Glen Hines speaking to CTV said;
“All I could hear was gunshots and my wife, I thought I was going to call 911, because she was going into panic, it scared her so bad,” Hines said.
While officials believe the attack did not begin as random, RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said many of the victims did not know the shooter.
“That 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. He added that police believe he acted alone.
Leather said they would investigate whether the attack had anything to do with the coronavirus pandemic but no link has been found thus far.
At one point, there was an exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police, he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacting to the incident tweeted “our hearts go out to everyone affected by the shooting,” adding “we’re keeping all of you in our thoughts.”
“To the Portapique community, we’re keeping all of you in our thoughts. And on behalf of all Canadians, I want you to know that we’re here for you – and we’ll be here for you in the days and weeks ahead,” he tweeted.
The suspect, Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist — a person who makes dentures — in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, according to the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. A suspect photo issued by the RCMP appears to be of the same person seen in video footage being interviewed about dentures by CTV Atlantic in 2014.