RCMP officers prepare to take a person into custody at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. on Sunday April 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Krochak

RCMP officers prepare to take a person into custody at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. on Sunday April 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Krochak

RCMP officer among 17 confirmed dead in Nova Scotia killing spree

Suspect was killed after being intercepted by officers, police say

RCMP say 17 people are dead, including one of their officers, after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser went on a rampage across northern Nova Scotia in one of the deadliest killing sprees in Canadian history.

Police said Sunday night the suspected shooter, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was killed after being intercepted by officers in Enfield, N.S.

Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year member of the force and mother of two, was identified as the officer killed. A male officer suffered non-life threatening injuries.

“Our hearts are heavy with grief and sadness today as we have lost one of our own,” said Brian Sauve, president of the union representing RCMP officers.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki confirmed to The Canadian Press late Sunday that the death toll had risen to 17, which surpasses the 14 victims killed in the 1989 Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather earlier told an evening news conference that “in excess of 10 people” had been killed.” Leather said it was hard to specify the exact number of victims, “because as we’re standing here, the investigation continues into areas that we have not yet explored across the province.”

He said the killings appear to be, “at least in part, very random in nature.”

The first reports of an active shooter came from Portapique, a community that shaken residents described as a quiet place to live that attracts cottagers from Halifax in summer months.

Lee Bergerman, commanding officer for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, said the day’s events have left many families in mourning. “The impact of this incident will extend from one end of the province to the other,” she said.

The incident began with a firearms complaint late Saturday night from Portapique, about 40 kilometres west of Truro, where frightened residents witnessed police filling the streets and were advised to lock their homes and stay in their basements.

Leather confirmed that officers responded to a multiple 911 calls Saturday night. Upon arrival, they found “several casualties” inside and outside a Portapique residence, he said, but they could not locate the suspect. He added there were “multiple sites in the area including structures that were on fire.”

By late Sunday morning, the suspect was stopped about 90 kilometres away in Enfield, a scene that was surrounded by a half dozen police vehicles. Yellow police tape surrounded the gas pumps, and a large silver-coloured SUV was being investigated by police.

A body was seen lying at the gas station. Police would not comment on whether it was Wortman.

Premier Stephen McNeil offered condolences to “families of the victims” and called the incident “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”

“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,” McNeil said in Halifax.

“Words cannot console the families affected by what has transpired over the last 24 hours.”

Through the morning, police updates about the active shooter investigation included warnings that Wortman was considered dangerous and may have been dressed as an RCMP officer in a lookalike RCMP vehicle.

Leather said this detail would be an important part of the investigation.

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

A Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist in Dartmouth, according to the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. A suspect photo issued by the RCMP matches video footage of a man being interviewed about dentures by CTV Atlantic in 2014.

Some Portapique residents who spoke with the The Canadian Press said they knew him in passing as a part-time resident who divided time between the Halifax area and his properties in the community.

David George Crockett, who lives a three-minute drive from Portapique Beach Road, the area where the first 911 calls originated, said Wortman once fixed his teeth at his home in Portapique.

“I’m very surprised,” Crockett said in a brief interview outside his rural home as the sun was setting. “I never thought he would do something like that.”

“From what I knew of him, he was quiet, gentle and very easy to talk to …. He was very nice. He kidded around a little bit. He seemed normal, not like someone who would do something like this.”

Crockett said the horrific news that more than 10 people had been killed left him feeling overwhelmed, given the stress he and his family was already feeling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s very depressing to see someone do something like this.”

A little farther down the rural road, another neighbour said he and Wortman were friends until the two had a falling out over a piece of nearby property.

The neighbour, who declined to give his name, said Wortman had burned an old shed that contained some property that belonged to the neighbour. The man said he was too overcome with emotion to say more about his relationship with Wortman or what might have motivated his rampage.

Lifelong Portapique resident Peter Hodge, 65, woke up at 1:30 a.m. and saw lights so bright, he thought it was a fire. He then realized that the bright lights were from “probably upwards of 14 police cars in the community.”

Christine Mills, another resident, said it had been a frightening night for the community, which was suddenly filled with armed officers patrolling the streets. In the morning, helicopters flew overhead searching for the suspect.

She said she was fearful 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.

Tom Taggart, a councillor who represents the Portapique area in the Municipality of Colchester, said the quiet community is in shock.

“This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community, and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable,” Taggart said by phone from his home in Bass River, about three kilometres away from Portapique.

Mills said police officers walked through the community with their guns drawn through the night, and helicopters had been flying over homes on Sunday morning.

Taggart said he didn’t know Wortman well, but spoke to him a few times when he telephoned about municipal issues, and described knowing Wortman’s “lovely big home” on Portapique Beach Road.

Police publicly identified Wortman about nine hours after an initial tweet around midnight asking people to avoid the Portapique area and stay indoors as officers responded to a firearms complaint.

Cpl. Lisa Croteau, public information officer with the Nova Scotia force, said the police received a call about “a person with firearms” at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and the investigation “evolved into an active shooting investigation.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the situation during his morning press conference focusing on the COVID-19 crisis.

“My heart goes out to everyone affected in what is a terrible situation,” he said. “I want to thank the police for their hard work and people for co-operating with authorities.”

— With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter, Michael Tutton and Jim Bronskill.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CanadaNova ScotiaShooting

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Handwashing is one of the important COVID-19 precautions. (File photo)
Editorial: Time to knuckle down on COVID precautions

It would be foolish to think that we have not had any COVID cases in Cowichan until now

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Danielle Groenendijk raised more than twice her goal for Parkinson’s Canada. (Photo submitted)
VIU volleyball athlete doubles fundraising goal for Parkinson’s

Daily runs over 30 days by Groenendijk add up to 254 kilometres

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New street signs in Duncan in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional native names on signs

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Most Read