2020 Nova Scotia attacks

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2020 Nova Scotia attacks
LocationNova Scotia, Canada
Date22:00, April 18, 2020 (2020-04-18T22:00)
11:26, April 19, 2020 (2020-04-19T11:26) ADT (UTC−03:00)
Attack type
Spree shooting, mass killing, arson[1]
WeaponsLong guns, handgun, fire[2]
Deaths23 (including the perpetrator)
Injured3
PerpetratorGabriel Wortman
MotiveUnknown (under investigation)

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 (RCMP) in Enfield.[3][4][5]

For part of the thirteen-hour crime spree, Wortman impersonated a police officer by driving a replica police car and wearing a police uniform. An investigation into Wortman's motives is underway.[6][7] Police are determining how he obtained firearms without a possession and acquisition licence.[8][9]

Police were criticized for not using Alert Ready to warn the public about the attacks. An investigation into law enforcement's response to the rampage, including the decision to not use Alert Ready, is underway.[10][11][12]

The attacks are the deadliest rampage in Canadian history, exceeding the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where fifteen people were shot and killed.[13] On May 1, in the wake of the attacks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, following through on a 2019 campaign promise,[14] announced an immediate ban on some 1,500 makes and models of military-grade "assault-style" weapons,[15] including the types used in these attacks.[16]

Events[edit]

April 18[edit]

The attacks 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.[4][17] The couple returned home after arguing at a nearby party shortly before 22:00, whereupon Wortman attacked his spouse, handcuffing her. However, she was able to escape from her bonds, after which she fled into the woods to hide.[18][19] Wortman subsequently set his house on fire, then returned to the party and started shooting, killing seven people.[4][17][20]

Beginning at 22:01, a number of Portapique residents called 9-1-1 to report gunshots and several fires.[6][18][21][22][23] 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.[23][24] Police said many had died while trying to escape the flames or in helping other victims.[4][25] One officer reported by radio that they could not locate the shooter, and that "it's very bad what's going on down here".[26]

First responders also found two men who said they encountered someone driving what appeared to be a police car while they were trying to respond to a burning home. According to them, they pulled up alongside the vehicle, only for the driver to fire at them, injuring one of them. The victims said the shooter had gone toward the beach, which was a dead end.[4][27]

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.[20][21][26][28][29]

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.[30][31] There, he left behind police equipment and gun-related items in a ditch on the property of a resident he knew.[32]

April 19[edit]

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. Wortman remained at the house for an undetermined amount of time before lighting it on fire.[18][31]

Simultaneously, police located Wortman's spouse in Portapique; she had fled to a neighbour's home to call 9-1-1 since Wortman had smashed her cellphone. She confirmed that he was impersonating a police officer, and provided a photo of his unregistered replica police vehicle.[4][17][27] 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 [6][12][18][22][33][34] Wortman was publicly identified as the suspect at 08:54.[35]

Wortman began driving back south on Highway 4 toward Portapique at 09:23, and shot and killed another victim while he 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.[4][5][18][28][29][31] By 09:48 , Wortman was seen near a campground in Glenholme, and was seen again at 10:08 travelling through Debert and Onslow.[31]

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.[35][36][37][38] During this time, Wortman performed two traffic stops on random cars and killed their occupants.[20][39][40] 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.[18][41]

Sometime before 10:49, Wortman pulled alongside RCMP Constable Chad Morrison's 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 Wortman's location. Wortman proceeded south into the junction with Route 224 and collided head-on with Stevenson, who was driving north.[20][26][42][43][44] Stevenson engaged Wortman, who shot and killed her, before taking her sidearm and ammunition.[20] He also set both cars on fire.[2][20][26][37]

Wortman then shot and killed a nearby motorist who stopped to help Stevenson, and drove off in his silver Chevrolet Tracker SUV.[20][28] Police announced the vehicle change at 11:06.[33] Shortly thereafter, Wortman killed a woman he knew at her Shubenacadie home, changed his clothes again, and stole her Mazda 3.[33] By 11:24, he was spotted continuing south along Highway 102 through Milford.[26][33][45][46]

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.[18][26] At least one RCMP officer who was already there to fill up on gas recognized Wortman, and fatally shot him.[46] Wortman's death was confirmed by police at 11:40 a.m.[1][33][36]

Victims[edit]

Wortman killed 22 people, including Constable Heidi 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.[3][22][37][40][47] He tied up and injured his spouse 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.[20] They are believed to have died from gunshot wounds, but other causes are also being investigated.[22][45] Eight of the victims were found in the remains of structure fires.[48] Wortman also shot and injured two dogs.[49][50]

According to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, some of Wortman's first victims were closely connected to him, but over time, those he attacked were selected more at random.[6] 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.[40][51]

Perpetrator[edit]

Workers removing signage from the perpetrator's denture clinic in Dartmouth on April 22

The RCMP identified the perpetrator as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman,[37][52][53] a denturist who operated two clinics in Halifax and Dartmouth, and who owned real estate in Halifax, Dartmouth, and Portapique.[29][37][54][55] Wortman had been living in Portapique since the early 2000s.[56] He had previously 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 counseling.[57][58]

Wortman was also involved in two civil lawsuits 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, Wortman's 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.[58][59][60]

According to his yearbook, Wortman aspired to become a police officer.[61] However, his partner informed police after the attacks that Wortman disliked law enforcement and "thought he was better than them".[19] He had a hobby of buying law enforcement memorabilia and refurbishing old police cruisers.[62] 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.[28][29] One person called Wortman's home a "shrine" for the RCMP.[62] He stored two of the vehicles behind his denture clinic.[61][63] According to a businessman in Dieppe, 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.[64] According to a witness, Wortman tended to dress up in a police uniform and role-play.[27]

Witnesses described Wortman as paranoid, manipulative, and controlling.[65] A neighbour said Wortman was obsessed with his spouse and tended to be "jealous about things with her".[28] A former neighbour in Portapique said she reported him to the RCMP in the summer of 2013 for assaulting his spouse and having a cache of illegal firearms, but they declined to take firmer action due to not receiving a complaint from the partner. The former neighbour ended up leaving Portapique after Wortman became more aggressive and threatening to her in response to the complaint.[56] Neighbours also said that Wortman struggled with alcohol use and his business was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced all non-essential denturist services in Nova Scotia to close.[62] Residents were suspicious Wortman was stockpiling gasoline and propane tanks, and they reported hearing him brag about having lime and muriatic acid to dispose of bodies.[19][27]

After the attacks, the decorative signs on Wortman's 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.[66]

Investigations[edit]

Criminal[edit]

No motive has been established for the attacks, though they are not considered an act of terrorism.[6] 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.[28][48] 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.[67] 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 500 identified witnesses.[31][43][68]

Chief Superintendent Chris Leather noted that Wortman's 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.[69][70] CBC News reported that at least one RCMP officer had previously taken note of one of Wortman's replica vehicles, and advised him not to drive it on the road.[64] Officials later said Wortman had acquired the specific vehicle he used in the attacks at an auction in fall 2019.[31] The RCMP determined the decals used for the replica vehicle came from a supplier, but that they were made without the business owner's permission.[71] The RCMP also looked into the navigation logs of Wortman's vehicles to determine if the route he took during the attacks was predetermined.[72]

Leather also said that Wortman had no possession and acquisition licence and his weapons were illegally purchased, a matter that is being investigated further.[8][9] Superintendent Darren Campbell said five firearms were recovered from the stolen vehicle Wortman was driving in Enfield. Four of them belonged to Wortman: two semiautomatic handguns and two semiautomatic rifles, one of which was described as a "military-style assault rifle". The fifth was Stevenson's stolen service pistol, a 9mm Smith & Wesson.[27][31][71][73] Police also said that while one of Wortman's firearms had originated in Canada, all of the others likely came from the United States.[2][4]

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.[40][74] However, Wortman ultimately never attacked him during the rampage.[40]

The Nova Scotia RCMP Major Crime Unit launched a tip hotline to gather further information about the attacks.[75]

On May 11, the RCMP's Behavioral Analysis Unit announced the launch of a "psychological autopsy" on Wortman, which will involve extensive interrogations with his friends, family members, and colleagues.[68]

Police response[edit]

Nova Scotia's 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.[37][40][76]

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.[12]

Lack of emergency alert[edit]

Following the attacks, many questions were raised about why Nova Scotia failed to use Alert Ready, Canada's emergency warning system, to warn the public about the attacks but instead chose to use 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.[77][78][79] Chief Superintendent Leather said an investigation would be conducted into the decision-making process on alerting the public.[10][11]

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.[57] The United States Consulate in Halifax said it emailed American citizens in Nova Scotia warning them of the situation using the RCMP's information.[77]

Aftermath[edit]

Political reactions[edit]

Prime Minister Trudeau speaks about the killings on April 20 (8:59)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences.[37] During his morning address from Rideau Cottage on April 20, he reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening gun control.[80] He asked the media to not use the attacker's name or image: "Do not give this person the gift of infamy."[81]

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters, "This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province's history." He expressed his condolences to the residents affected and the families of the victims.[82]

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.[83]

The White House condemned the attacks and expressed US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump's condolences.[39]

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 (École Polytechnique massacre), the Beretta Cx4 Storm (Dawson College shooting), and the CSA vz. 58 (Quebec City mosque shooting).[15][84] However, the intended long-term effects of such a move were questioned by experts, who pointed out Wortman's illegal acquisition of his firearms and the new ban's inability to address international firearms trafficking or other types of firearms used in criminal activity, like handguns and SKS-type semiautomatic rifles.[85]

On May 3, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced plans to expand Canada's red flag law to include family members and others.[86]

Memorials and fundraisers[edit]

Flags across Canada were lowered to half-mast,[87] and the House of Commons observed a moment of silence for the victims.[88]

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.[89]

In the days after the incident, many fundraisers for the victims and their families were started on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe.[90][91] There was also at least one fake or fraudulent fundraiser started, which was subsequently removed. Jeff Thomson of the RCMP's Anti-Fraud Centre warned Canadians to be diligent when donating to charities related to the tragedy.[91]

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.[92][93]

Misogyny and domestic violence[edit]

Following RCMP confirmation that the attacks were preceded by an act of domestic violence, women's advocates said the rampage highlighted a broader problem of domestic violence in Canada, as well as the potential for it to escalate and become a public threat.[94] Activists criticised law enforcement's inability to respond to earlier domestic violence reports against Wortman, and called upon attention to be placed on the role of misogyny in the attacks.[95]

Citing eyewitness reports of Wortman's behaviour and ways of controlling his partner, domestic violence experts called for a coercive control law in Canada, similar to one passed by the United Kingdom in 2015, which they say may "help prevent other abusers from escaping detection".[96]

Lawsuit[edit]

Relatives of the victims put forth a lawsuit against Wortman's estate for damages caused by the rampage.[97][98]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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