A shooter, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, killed 16 people and died in Nova Scotia in the worst shooting rampage in Canadian history, including one Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). No motive for the shootings was immediately apparent.
The slain RCMP officer was identified as Constable Heidi Stevenson, described by Canada’s Global News as a 23-year veteran of the force with a husband and two children. One of the victims was identified by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union as elementary school teacher Lisa McCully. According to the union, Constable Stevenson’s husband is also a teacher.
Two victims were identified by their union as nurses, Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien. O’Brien’s daughter said in a Facebook post on Sunday that “a monster murdered my mother today.”
A person familiar with several of the victims told the Chronicle Herald they belonged to the same family and said she was “speechless” at their senseless murder. A GoFundMe account has been established by a woman named Tammy Oliver-McCurdie to help with funeral expenses for three slain members of her family, described as her “sister, niece 17 years, and brother-in-law” named Jolene Oliver, Emily Tuck, and Aaron Tuck. The first RCMP alert related to the shooting spree occurred at 11:32 p.m. local time on Saturday night and involved a “firearms complaint” in which “several casualties” were discovered inside a residence.
According to a police statement on Sunday, Wortman put considerable planning into his killing spree, including RCMP disguises for both himself and his vehicle. Wortman’s mock police car was so carefully prepared that the RCMP noted only one major mistake that would be unlikely to trigger the suspicions of ordinary civilians: he painted the vehicle ID number in the wrong place.
#Colchester: Gabriel Wortman may be driving what appears to be an RCMP vehicle & may be wearing an RCMP uniform. There's 1 difference btwn his car and our RCMP vehicles: the car #. The suspect's car is 28B11, behind rear passenger window. If you see 28B11 call 911 immediately. pic.twitter.com/yyeOeBt8Ui
— RCMP, Nova Scotia (@RCMPNS) April 19, 2020
Wortman owned a denture clinic and several other properties in Nova Scotia, including what one neighbor described as a “lovely big home.” His denture business was successful enough to make him a millionaire, according to various Canadian media accounts. Stunned acquaintances described him as quiet and friendly, although a few mentioned his unusual sense of humor.
“I’m very surprised. 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,” neighbor and customer David George Crockett told the National Post.
“He was very nice. He kidded around a little bit. He seemed normal, not like someone who would do something like this,” Crockett added.
The National Post noted that Wortman was featured in a 2014 television news story about his donation of free dentures to a cancer survivor who lost all her teeth.
“My heart went out to her. There’s so many ways for people to get dentures, but it seems like the people who really need them are the people who are getting left behind,” Wortman said at the time.
A few negative stories about Wortman have emerged in the early hours after the shooting. One of his neighbors said the two had a “falling out [over] a piece of nearby property” that involved Wortman burning a shed that contained some of his neighbor’s property. The neighbor in question declined to discuss the incident further with the media.
A more serious incident from February saw a complaint about the parking lot outside Wortman’s denture office escalating until five police officers and a supervisor became involved.
One vague clue unearthed to his motives as of Monday morning was a high school yearbook entry from the class of 1986 that mentioned he was interested in becoming an RCMP officer. Canada’s Globe and Mail reported on Sunday that Wortman “had shown an obsession for policing, buying law-enforcement memorabilia and boasting about his hobby of refurbishing old police cruisers.”
One of his neighbors described his house as a “shrine” to the RCMP and called his obsession with police memorabilia “freaky.” He apparently discussed his hobby with some of his denture customers and was even seen driving his ersatz police cars while wearing RCMP uniforms, long before he launched his shooting spree.
The RCMP mentioned at a press briefing that Wortman might also have been upset about business closings due to the coronavirus pandemic, although this too was offered in only vague terms.
“Police said Wortman killed people in several locations over 12 hours across the rural town of Portapique, and some of his victims were not known to him. People were shot in their homes and properties set on fire,” Sky News reported on Monday. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing police vehicles on fire during the manhunt for the killer.
The killings began shortly before midnight on Saturday and went on for almost 12 hours, with area residents reporting a massive police presence surging onto the street and helicopters orbiting overhead as they searched for the gunman.
The New York Times on Monday quoted police officials who said the killings “appeared to be targeted at the start” but then became “random” as Wortman traveled through Nova Scotia. The police have not released many details about Wortman’s death as of yet, but media accounts say he was brought down at a gas station during a confrontation with police officers, one of whom was wounded during an exchange of fire.
No information has yet been released on the gun Wortman used or how he obtained it. Unregistered handguns are illegal in Canada, and registration requires extensive preparations, multiple references, and background checks. It is not yet clear if Wortman’s background included anything that would have made it difficult for him to qualify for a gun license.
One lingering question about the shooting is why the area emergency alert system (EAS) was not activated during Wortman’s rampage. Police warned the public to stay indoors during the manhunt, but the EAS was not used to push warnings out to all cell phones.