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

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where one employee is still currently isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was first declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
54 positive COVID-19 cases associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

There’s been a two-person increase in positive cases since Tuesday (Dec. 1)

K-J Millar/The Northern View
8 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the Northern Health Authority

Since Nov. 27, there have been 191 new cases reported in NHA

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Two snowmobilers stranded overnight near Yanks Peak were rescued Wednesday, Dec. 2 by Central Cariboo Search Rescue with mutual aid from Prince George Search and Rescue and South Cariboo Search. (Central Cariboo Search and Rescue photo)
Central Cariboo Search and Rescue rescues two snowmobilers from Cariboo Mountains

Prince George Search and Rescue, South Cariboo Search and Rescue did mutual aid

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of payments for household incomes up to $175,000

Most Read