ⓘ 2020 Nova Scotia attacks
On April 18–19, 2020, Gabriel Wortman committed multiple shootings and set fires at 16 locations in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, killing 22 people and injuring three others before he was shot and killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Enfield.
For part of the 13-hour crime spree, Wortman impersonated a police officer by driving a replica police car and wearing a police uniform. Investigation by the RCMP has identified from where the decals were obtained for the replica vehicle and that they were made without the knowledge of the business owner. An investigation into his motives is underway. Police are determining how he obtained firearms without a possession and acquisition licence.
Police were criticized for not using Alert Ready to warn the public about the attacks. An investigation into law enforcements response to the rampage, including the decision to not use Alert Ready, is underway.
The attacks are the deadliest rampage in Canadian history, exceeding the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where 15 people were shot and killed. On May 1, in the wake of the attacks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, following through on a 2019 campaign promise, announced an immediate ban on some 1.500 makes and models of military-grade "assault-style" weapons, including the types used in these attacks.
1.1. Events April 18
The events originated as a case of domestic violence between Wortman and his common law spouse in the rural beachside community of Portapique, 130 kilometres 81 mi north of Halifax. The couple returned home after arguing at a nearby party shortly before 22:00, whereupon he attacked her, and she fled into the woods to hide. Wortman subsequently set his house on fire, then returned to the party and started shooting, killing seven people.
Beginning at 22:01, a number of Portapique residents called 9-1-1 to report gunshots and several fires. When RCMP officers arrived on the scene at 22:26, they discovered thirteen victims who had been shot and killed both inside and outside of eight homes on Orchard Beach Drive and Portapique Beach Road, three of which were burning. Police said many had died while trying to escape the flames or in helping other victims. One officer reported by radio that they could not locate the shooter, and that "its very bad whats going on down here". First responders also found a man who said he had been shot by someone driving what appeared to be a police car. The victim said the shooter had gone toward the beach, which was a dead end.
Police soon identified Wortman as a suspect, but with his property on fire and the understanding that there was only one exit from the community, they believed he was either on foot or already dead by suicide, and could not be far away. At 23:32, 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 of 2 kilometres 1.2 mi. Overnight, there was confusion over whether Wortman had been apprehended and if he was the driver of the apparent police car. The RCMP later determined that Wortman had left Portapique at around 22:35 by driving through a field, and that he had spent the night in the Debert area, about 26 kilometres 16 mi east of Portapique.
1.2. Events April 19
Wortman left Debert at 05:43 and drove north on Highway 4 to a house whose residents he knew, located on Hunter Road in Wentworth, approximately 37 kilometres 23 mi north of Portapique. He arrived at around 06:30 and shortly thereafter killed the two occupants, as well as a neighbour who had come to help. He remained at the house for an undetermined amount of time before lighting it on fire.
Simultaneously, police located Wortmans spouse in Portapique. She confirmed that he was impersonating a police officer, and provided a photo of his unregistered replica police vehicle. A BOLO alert containing this information was issued to officers across the province, and the RCMP officially announced that they were dealing with an active shooter situation at 08:02 Wortman was publicly identified as the suspect at 08:54.
Wortman began driving back south on Highway 4 toward Portapique at 09:23, and shot and killed another victim while she was walking on the side of the road in Wentworth Valley at 09:35. At around 09:45, he went to another house whose residents he knew, while armed and dressed in a police uniform, but the occupants refused to let him in and called the police.
By 09:48, Wortman was seen near a campground in Glenholme, and was seen again at 10:08 travelling through Debert and Onslow. In a tweet posted at 10:17, the RCMP first warned the public that Wortman was impersonating a police officer, and shared the photo of his vehicle. During this time, he performed two traffic stops on random cars and killed their occupants. He was captured on surveillance video passing through Truro at around 10:20, and then Millbrook First Nation at 10:25, where he briefly stopped in a parking lot to exchange his jacket for a reflective vest.
Sometime before 10:49, Wortman pulled alongside RCMP Constable Chad Morrisons cruiser on Route 2 in Shubenacadie. Morrison had planned to meet fellow officer Heidi Stevenson at that location. Wortman shot into the car, injuring Morrison, who drove to a nearby hospital after reporting Wortmans location. Wortman proceeded south into the junction with Route 224 and collided head-on with Stevenson, who was driving north. Stevenson engaged Wortman, who shot and killed her, before taking her sidearm and ammunition. He also set both cars on fire. He then shot and killed a nearby motorist who stopped to help Stevenson, and drove off in his silver Chevy Tracker SUV. Police announced the vehicle change at 11:06.
Shortly thereafter, Wortman killed a woman he knew at her Shubenacadie home, changed his clothes again, and stole her Mazda 3. By 11:24, he was spotted continuing south along Highway 102 through Milford.
Finally, over thirteen hours after police began pursuing him, at 11:26, Wortman stopped to refuel at the Irving Big Stop service area in Enfield, 92 kilometres 57 mi south of Portapique and 40 kilometres 25 mi north of Halifax. At least one RCMP officer who was already there to fill up on gas recognized Wortman, and fatally shot him. Wortmans death was confirmed by police at 11:40 a.m.
Wortman killed 22 people, including Stevenson. The other officer he shot survived, as did the man he shot in Portapique who first reported his possible use of a police car. He tied up and injured his girlfriend before she escaped at the start of the rampage. Thirteen of the dead were found in Portapique, four in Wentworth, two in Debert, and three in Shubenacadie. They are believed to have died from gunshot wounds, but other causes are also being investigated. Eight of the victims were found in the remains of structure fires. Wortman also shot and injured two dogs.
According to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, some of Wortmans first victims were closely connected to him, but over time, those he attacked were selected more at random. The Globe and Mail reported that one of the victims 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.
The RCMP identified the perpetrator as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, a denturist who operated two clinics in Dartmouth and Halifax. He owned real estate in Portapique, Halifax, and Dartmouth. He aspired to be a police officer, according to his yearbook.
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.
He was also involved in two civil matters regarding property disputes, according to interviews and public records. In 2004, he offered to help a friend who had financial difficulties and was about to lose his house, then discreetly took ownership of the house, evicted the man, and sold the property. In 2015, his uncle lent him a house that he purchased in Portapique while selling his Edmonton condominium. Wortman refused to release the property back to him, claiming he was owed money, until the uncle eventually sold it; one of the buyers later became a victim in the killings.
Wortman had a hobby of buying law enforcement memorabilia and refurbishing old police cruisers. At the time of the attacks, he was in possession of four such cruisers. Police found two of them on fire at his Portapique property and a third at his Halifax property, while Wortman initially drove the fourth during the spree. One person called his home a "shrine" for the RCMP. He stored two of the vehicles behind his denture clinic. According to a businessman in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Wortman inquired about buying 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. For price reasons, he did not buy it.
A neighbour said Wortman was obsessed with his girlfriend and tended to be "jealous about things with her". Neighbours also said that he struggled with alcohol use and his business was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Nova Scotia, which forced all non-essential denturist services to close.
After the attacks, the decorative signs on Wortmans denture clinic on Portland 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 signs on April 22.
4.1. Investigations Criminal
No motive has been established for the attacks, though they are not considered an act of terrorism. Over 25 different units of the RCMP were involved in the criminal investigation, along with the Halifax Regional Police and the Canada Border Services Agency. The Canadian Armed Forces were also dispatched on April 21 to assist the RCMP in their investigation by providing them with additional personnel and supplies. There were a total of 16 crime scenes, including five structure fires, spread over a distance of at least 50 kilometres 31 mi, along with 435 identified witnesses.
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather noted that Wortmans use of a police cruiser and a police uniform allowed him to evade detection for a long time. Owning police vehicles or uniforms is not a crime in Canada, but impersonating a police officer is. CBC News reported that at least one RCMP officer had previously taken note of one of Wortmans replica vehicles, and advised him not to drive it on the road. Officials later said Wortman had acquired the specific vehicle he used in the attacks at an auction in fall 2019.
Leather also said that Wortman had no possession and acquisition licence and his weapons were illegally purchased, a matter that is being investigated further. Superintendent Darren Campbell said Wortman possessed several semiautomatic handguns and two semiautomatic rifles, one of which was described as a "military-style assault rifle". Police also said that while one of the weapons had originated in Canada, all of the others likely came from the United States.
The man from whom Wortman had previously considered buying a police car said that he was warned by police during the incident that he was considered a possible target. He was not a victim, and police later denied suggestions that Wortman had kept a written list of targets.
The Nova Scotia RCMP Major Crime Unit launched a tip hotline to gather further information about the attacks.
4.2. Investigations Police response
Nova Scotias 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.
In an interview with As It Happens on April 25, Commissioner Lucki promised a thorough review of the police response to the attacks, including the delay in informing the public about Wortman potentially impersonating a police officer.
4.3. Investigations Lack of emergency alert
Following questions about why Nova Scotia did not use Alert Ready, Canadas emergency population warning system, to warn the public about the attacks 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 were being updated frequently. However, the areas affected had poor cellular Internet service and were mostly populated by seniors who might not have used social media. Relatives of the victims pointed out that the use of Alert Ready could have saved lives. Chief Superintendent Leather said an investigation would be conducted into the decision-making process on alerting the public.
On April 22, Leather said officers in Dartmouth were asked by the province about a warning at 10:15 a.m., but they did not agree on details like wording before Wortman died 71 minutes later. The United States Consulate in Halifax said it emailed American citizens in Nova Scotia warning them of the situation using the RCMPs information.
5.1. Aftermath Political reactions
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences. During his morning address from Rideau Cottage on April 20, he reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening gun control. He asked the media to not use the attackers name or image: "Do not give this person the gift of infamy."
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters, "This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our provinces history." He expressed his condolences to the residents affected and the families of the victims.
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.
The White House condemned the attacks and expressed US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trumps condolences.
On May 1, Trudeau announced that the sale, transportation, importation, or use of military-grade assault weapons in Canada was now banned effective immediately, via the government re-classifying them as "Prohibited" under the Firearms Act, with a two-year amnesty period to allow current owners to dispose of them or apply for their ownership to be grandfathered in. The prohibition applies to at least 1.500 models, largely semi-automatic firearms fully automatic firearms were already classified as "Prohibited", including the AR-15 and guns that had been used in other notable mass shootings in Canada, such as the Ruger Mini-14 Ecole Polytechnique massacre, the Beretta Cx4 Storm Dawson College shooting, and the CSA vz. 58 Quebec City mosque shooting.
5.2. Aftermath Memorials and fundraisers
Flags across Canada were lowered to half-mast, and the House of Commons observed a moment of silence for the victims.
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.
In the days after the incident, many fundraisers for the victims and their families were started on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. There was also at least one fake or fraudulent fundraiser started, which was subsequently removed. Jeff Thomson of the RCMPs Anti-Fraud Centre warned Canadians to be diligent when donating to charities related to the tragedy.
As large gatherings were restricted in the province due to the coronavirus pandemic, a public virtual vigil was streamed online via Facebook, and carried by CBC Atlantic television.
5.3. Aftermath Lawsuit
Relatives of the victims put forth a lawsuit against the estate of Gabriel Wortman for damages caused by his spree killing.
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