Gabriel Wortman has been identified as the 51-year-old man who was shot dead after killing at least 18 people, including a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, in a rural Nova Scotia, Canada, CTV News reported. Authorities said RCMP officer Constable Heidi Stevenson was killed and another officer was injured, but he is expected to survive.
The mass shooting rampage, the deadliest in Canadian history, began late Saturday, April 18, in Portapique and ended Sunday, April 19, at a gas station in Enfield. Police have not said exactly how many people were killed or wounded during the 12-hour incident, which also included numerous fires to buildings and vehicles. Authorities said the killings occurred in multiple locations across the northern part of the province of Nova Scotia. Police do not believe anyone else was involved in the shootings, and they are not looking for additional suspects.
RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said at a press conference the investigation was active and ongoing as of Sunday evening and investigators had not yet searched every crime scene to determine how many people were killed. Leather said officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect at one point during the incident. He said it was too early on in the investigation to say what the suspect’s motivations were. Some of the victims did have a relationship with Wortman, Leather told reporters. But he said he could not provide specifics because of privacy laws.
“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,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said at a press conference. “This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history. Words cannot console the families affected by what has transpired over the last 24 hours.”
McNeil added, “We’re all in shock that such a thing could happen here in Nova Scotia, and there’s a heavy burden to bear on top of COVID-19. But now more than ever we must stay strong together.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking before a press conference about the coronavirus pandemic, said, “My heart goes out to everyone affected in what is a terrible situation. I want to thank the police for their hard work and people for cooperating with authorities.”
Here’s what you need to know about Gabriel Wortman:
1. Wortman Was at One Point Believed to Be Driving a Car Made to Look Like an RCMP Cruiser & Was Possibly Wearing a Fake Police Uniform, Authorities Said
The active-shooter situation began Saturday night, April 18, when Nova Scotia RCMP officers received multiple calls of a firearms incident at a residence in Portapique in Colchester County, Leather said at a press conference Sunday. Several casualties were found inside and outside of the home, but no suspect was found, according to Leather. “This was a very quickly evolving situation and a chaotic scene. Many units responded, including emergency response teams and police dog services,” he said.
According to Leather, officers secured the immediate area and began a search for a suspect. “The initial search for the suspect led to multiple sites in the area, including structures that were on fire. The search continued overnight and into the morning. This morning, we actively sought out the suspect through multiple communities throughout Nova Scotia. The search for the suspect ended this morning when the suspect was located and I can confirm that he is deceased,” Leather said. An officer-involved shooting investigation is underway, he said.
A witness at the gas station where Wortman was killed told CTV, “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.” The witness, Glen Hines, told CTV, “There was multiple, like probably between five or 10 (gunshots). It was steady.”
Leather said, “We are in the early stages of an incredibly detailed and complex investigation that has forever changed countless lives and has left multiple victims. Our focus right now is to gather all evidence and information about these incidents and to get answers to many unanswered questions.” He said he would provide as much detail as possible but said it was still the early stages of the investigation into the tragedy. Police plan to release more information at a later time.
Photos and videos from bystanders showed a crash scene with multiple police cruisers on fire. Authorities have not provided details about that part of the incident. Darcy Sack, who witnessed the incident involving the flaming police vehicles, told the CBC, “We were right behind the police car that was on fire. There was one officer we could see on scene and then all of a sudden, he went running toward one of the burning vehicles. We heard gunshots. I had that feeling that something was wrong with the [police officer’s] partner — the way he looked. My heart went out to him.” Sack said the suspect appeared to also be dressed like a police officer and fled from the scene in a silver SUV with officers again giving chase.
On Sunday, about 10 a.m., Nova Scotia RCMP said on Twitter they believed Wortman was possibly driving what looked like an RCMP vehicle and wearing what appeared to be an RCMP uniform. Police said that Wortman was not an RCMP officer or employee and the vehicle was not stolen. He was later said to be driving a Chevrolet Tracker SUV.
According to Billy Swinimer, a Nova Scotia resident who knew the suspect, Wortman was known to have bought a retired police vehicle at an auction. Swinimer wrote on Facebook, “His main hobby is buying ex-police cars at auctions.” Swinimer said Wortman showed photos of a “cruiser that he redid. It’s exactly like an actual RCMP police car and he has the uniform to go with it.”
Leather told reporters, “I can confirm that at one point during the course of the evening he appears to have been wearing if not all, then a portion of a police uniform and he was driving at one point a mock-up or a vehicle that was made to look like an RCMP police cruiser.” When asked whether the shootings were pre-planned, Leather said that is an “important element of the investigation, the fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal, certainly speaks to it not be a random act.”
2. Wortman Owned Multiple Properties in Dartmouth & Portapique, Nova Scotia, & Was Once Featured in a Local News Story About His Work as a Denturist
Public records show that Wortman owned several properties in Dartmouth and Portapique, Nova Scotia, and he worked as a denturist. Wortman lived in Halifax. He was the owner of the Atlantic Denture Clinic on Portland Street in Dartmouth. Photos from local reporters showed that officers had blocked off the building as part of the investigation.
In a promotional video for Wortman’s business, he says he is a “licensed denturist here in the province of Nova Scotia. I run a company called Atlantic Denture Clinic. At Atlantic Denture Clinic, we are a full-service denture clinic in that we take the impressions from the patients and make the teeth for the patients. There’s no required referrals from your dentist. Here at Atlantic Denture Clinic, we invite you to come and smile with confidence.”
Wortman was featured in a 2014 story by a local news outlet about charity work he did as part of his denture business. In the CTV News story, a Halifax cancer survivor praised Wortman for helping her replace her teeth that she lost because of her battle with the disease. After she found out Medicare wouldn’t cover her dentures and spoke to a local news station, Wortman reached out. ““If my mom were here today, she always used to tell me that there’s angels among us that walk on the face of the earth, and to me, that’s what those people are,” the woman told CTV in 2014.
Wortman told the news station, “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.”
Police have released few details about Wortman’s family and life. Authorities did say at least some of the victims were known to Wortman but added that others appeared to have been picked at random. According to police, Wortman was armed with a firearm during the incident and used the gun, or guns, to shoot and kill some of the victims. But authorities said they are not sure whether he used any other means to kill or injure others.
3. Wortman Graduated From New Brunswick’s Riverview High School in 1986 & His Yearbook Noted He Was Thinking About Becoming an RCMP Officer
According to his former classmates, Wortman graduated from Riverview High School in Riverview, New Brunswick, in 1986. He also has family ties to Moncton, New Brunswick. Authorities said they are not yet aware if he was known to police or had any criminal history. Police also said they do not know yet if Wortman had a history of violence or hateful opinions.
Local politician Tom Taggart told The Associated Press he didn’t know Wortman well but had spoken to him a few times in the past when he called about municipal issues.
The AP wrote, “Taggart described knowing Wortman’s lovely big home on Portapique Beach Road. He said Wortman owned a few other properties and was believed to divide his time between Portapique and his business in Dartmouth.”
A classmate’s daughter shared a photo on social media of Wortman’s high school yearbook. Next to his photo, the yearbook states, “Gabriel can be seen cruising around on one wheel on his Honda XR 500R … Gabriel’s likes are good skiing and time spent with friends. His dislikes include cold weather and English. Gabe’s future may include being an RCMP officer.”
When asked about Wortman’s motivations, the RCMP’s Leather told reporters, “We simply don’t know at this time. Those are of course the very issues that will be under close investigation in the coming days. But I’m afraid I don’t know at this time.” Another reporter asked Leather if there was any connection between the shooting and the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Leather responded, “It’s very early and that certainly is an aspect that we will look at, we will examine, but we’ve not yet determined whether there is any link to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Lillian MacCormack, Wortman’s neighbor, told CTV News, “Very, very shocked to think that someone we’ve known for so long, a good neighbor, a helpful neighbor, very kind, would ever think of doing such a tragedy.” MacCormack and her husband told the news station that Wortman was friendly and also a talented mechanic and carpenter.
Bill MacCormack told CTV News his neighbor had a fondness for cars and motorcycles. MacCormack told the news station that Wortman bought multiple retired police cruisers and kept them in a yard behind his clinic. “It’s two Mountie cars,” the neighbor said. “I never asked him about it.”
4. Wortman Shot & Killed Constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-Year Veteran of the RCMP & a Mother of 2, Police Say
Wortman is accused of fatally shooting RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, officials said at a Sunday press conference. Details of the shooting incident have not been released. Stevenson was a 23-year veteran of the RCMP and is survived by her husband and two children, officials said.
“Heidi answered the call of duty and lost her life while protecting those she served,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman said at a Sunday press conference. “Earlier this afternoon I met with Heidi’s family and there are no words to describe their pain. Two children have lost their mother and a husband has lost his wife. Parents have lost their daughter and countless others lost an incredible friend and colleague. Heidi’s family is a part of the RCMP family and we will embrace and support them in the days and weeks and months ahead.”
A 2015 photo shared on Facebook by the RCMP in Nova Scotia shows Stevenson walking across a crosswalk at a school while accompanied by several young students. Keith Brumwell wrote in the comments, “Heidi was one of my students when I taught at the RCMP academy in Regina. She is a great example as an officer for the RCMP.”
A male officer was injured and remained hospitalized Sunday with non-life-threatening injuries, Bergerman told reporters. He was not identified.
Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation, the union for RCMP officers, told The National Post, “It’s a heroic decision to dedicate your life to the safety of Canadians and then it’s only more so if you end up giving an ultimate sacrifice as this member did today.”
Another victim of the shooting has been identified as Lisa McCully. Her sister, Jenny Kierstead, wrote on Facebook, “This is so hard to write but many of you will want to know. Our hearts are broken today as we attempt to accept the loss of my sister, Lisa McCully, who was one of the victims of the mass shooting in Portapique last night. Our condolences go out to the other family members who are affected by this tragedy. Thank you for your support, it’s a hard day.”
Two other victims have been identified as Greg Blair and Jamie Blair, according to a family member. Jessica MacBurnie wrote, “Two beautiful souls were lost today ? … and many more. I have absolutely no words for the heartache my family & many others are going through. This was such a careless act, & many who should have never lost their lives. My heart is breaking for my family, my heart is breaking for everyone else suffering through this tragedy. My family has been through so much, no one should have ever had to deal with this. I love you both so much, & sending all my love to my family & every other families who lost someone today.”
The other victims killed and injured in the shooting have not yet been identified. “The impact of this incident will extend from one end of the province to the other,” Bergerman said.
5. The Rampage Terrorized Residents of the Rural Nova Scotia Communities & Brought Back Memories of a 2014 Shooting Spree & Manhunt in Nearby Moncton, New Brunswick
The shooting rampage and manhunt terrorized residents across the rural Nova Scotia communities in the northern part of the province. It also brought back memories of a 2014 shooting spree and manhunt in nearby Moncton, New Brunswick. The suspect in that June 4, 2014, incident, Justin Bourque, shot five RCMP officers, killing three and injuring two, before the 24-year-old was arrested. Bourque, who told investigators he committed the attacks in hopes of sparking a rebellion against the Canadian government, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 75 years.
Police do not yet know what the motive was for the incident in the neighboring province of Nova Scotia. Authorities noted that the April 2020 shootings occurred while the province and country of Canada are also dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with officials calling it a double tragedy. Authorities believe the Nova Scotia shootings appear to have been random in nature.
Councillor Tom Taggart, who represents the municipality of Colchester, told the CBC, “It’s a beautiful, quiet, rural community.” Taggart said something like what happened is not expected to occur in “cottage country.” Taggart told The Associated Press, “This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement:
I was saddened to learn about the senseless violence in Nova Scotia, which claimed the lives of multiple people, including one member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Cst. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the Force. Our hearts go out to the people who have lost loved ones, and to the RCMP family mourning a fallen officer. I also hope for a full recovery for the people who were injured, including one RCMP member who is in hospital being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Every day, law enforcement members put themselves in harm’s way to ensure our safety and well-being. I thank them, and all first responders, for their unwavering dedication, professionalism, and service, and for always being there for us. As a country, in moments like these, we come together to support one another. Together we will mourn with the families of the victims, and help them get through this difficult time.
Earlier today, I spoke with the RCMP Commissioner and the Premier of Nova Scotia to offer my condolences, on behalf of the Government of Canada. The people of Nova Scotia are strong and resilient, and we will be here to support them as they heal from this tragedy.
Bergerman told reporters Sunday, “Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and it will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come. What has unfolded overnight and into this morning is incomprehensible and many families are experiencing the loss of a loved one. That includes our own RCMP family.” She added, “As Nova Scotians, we have to do what we are known for and come together in a time of need and support each other.”
Leather, who is leading the criminal investigation for the RCMP, said at the press conference Sunday, “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Constable Stevenson and to the families of all the victims. I would also like to acknowledge the member who was injured and his family. As you can appreciate, this is an extremely difficult day for the RCMP and for the families who have been affected by these tragedies.”
The shooting spree surpasses the previous deadliest mass shooting in Canada, the École Polytechnique massacre. In that shooting, 14 women were killed at an engineering school in Montreal by a gunman who was motivated by antifeminism.