Nova Scotia investigators are scouring for answers after a deadly rampage that began in the tiny town of Portapique on Cobequid Bay led police on a miles-long chase across the Canadian province.
When the manhunt ended about 12 hours later, the gunman had killed 18 people, officials say — including a police constable and a teacher — and left a trail of crime scenes that authorities are still working to process.
Another police officer was injured, police said, and in Shubenacadie, there were reports of gunshots and possibly burned-out police vehicles, according to one of CNN’s media partners.
The gunman, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was killed in a shootout with police in Enfield, about 60 miles from the initial crime scene, said Chris Leather, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police chief superintendent and criminal operations officer in Nova Scotia.
The motive behind the shooting, one of Canada’s deadliest, is still under investigation, Leather said. Some victims, he said, “appeared not to have a relationship with the assailant shooter.”
23-year veteran of RCMP killed
One of those killed was Constable Heidi Stevenson and another officer is hospitalized for injuries he suffered during the incident that are not life-threatening, the RCMP said on Facebook.
“It is with tremendous sadness that I share with you that we lost Cst. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force who was killed this morning,” said Lee Bergerman, the RCMP’s commanding officer in Nova Scotia. “I met with Heidi’s family, and there are no words to describe their pain. Two children have lost their mother and a husband his wife. Parents lost their daughter and countless others lost an incredible friend and colleague.”
The chaos began when police were first called to a “firearms complaint” at a Portapique property Saturday at 10:30 p.m.
“When police arrived at the scene, the members located several casualties inside and outside of the home,” Leather said.
The gunman may have been wearing a RCMP uniform and driving a car that appeared to be a police vehicle, and authorities highlighted the fact in asking the public to be on the lookout for the look-alike cruiser.
Wortman was not employed by the RCMP, authorities said.
“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.
Wortman was a skilled mechanic and enjoyed cars and motorcycles, neighbor BIll MacPheron told CNN media partner CTV News. Wortman had recently bought two used police cars — which MacPherson described as “mountie cars” — and kept them behind a clinic where he worked, he told the station.
“I never asked him about it,” MacPherson said.
‘Oh my God, lock the doors! He’s here!’
After the initial notice that a gunman was on the loose, police warned residents to stay away from a campground in Glenholme, about 15 miles east of Portapique.
Police first asked the public to be on the lookout for the bogus police cruiser in Debert mid-morning Sunday.
One of the 18 victims, elementary school educator Lisa McCully, worked at Debert Elementary School, according to the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, which described her a “passionate teacher” and a “shining love” in her friends’ and family’s lives.
Wortman was then seen in Central Onslow and farther south in Brookfield, where police updated the suspect’s vehicle description to a silver Chevy Tracker.
Wortman was involved in a “serious criminal event” in Shubenacadie, about 15 miles south of Brookfield, the RCMP’s Serious Incident Response Team said.
Witnesses recalled hearing multiple gunshots in the area, according to CTV News.
Several burned-out vehicles, which may have been police cruisers, sat along the highway, the station reported.
“I hear the shots and … there’s a guy running back and forth up beside what looks to be a police vehicle,” a witness at the scene told the station. “Then after a short bit I saw fire.”
RCMP told people to stay indoors. The suspect continued south to Milford and was ultimately found at a truck stop in Enfield between 11 a.m. and noon Sunday, about 12 hours after the initial 911 call to police.
Truck driver Tom Nurani was at the truck stop when he heard a staff member frantically shouting, he told CTV News.
“‘Oh my God, lock the doors! He’s here!'” Nurani recalled the woman saying. “I peek out of the window, and I saw some RCMP vehicles and there was four or five uniforms with guns.”
Witness Glen Hines was driving past when he heard gunfire, he told the station.
“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.
Politicians respond to shooting rampage
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil called the shooting spree “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,” he said.
“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the shooting,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted.
“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 said.
Orders issued to protect the public during the Covid-19 pandemic will prevent Canadians from mourning in person, he said, but a virtual vigil is scheduled for Friday.
The National Police Federation is “working hard to ensure all our members and their families are supported,” federation president Brian Sauvé said.
“We are there for them now and will be there for them for the coming days and months as they work through this tragedy,” Sauvé said. “As Canadians, we are extremely fortunate these incidents are not common.”
“A truly heartbreaking day in Canada,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said.
“I know the people of Nova Scotia will band together to heal and mourn those who were lost. All Canadians will stand with them.”