It is the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. Royal Canadian Mounted Police rushed to more than a dozen crime scenes yesterday after a shooting rampage by a gunman disguised as a police officer left at least 18 dead and homes in smoldering ruins in rural Nova Scotia.
Officials say the suspect, 51 year old Gabriel Wortman, died in the weekend attack. No motive has been given for the killings at this stage.
A spokeman for the RCMP told a press conference yesterday that police expect to find more victims after they comb through all the crime scenes, some of which are houses set ablaze, as victims, obeying government calls to stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, were inside.
The spokesman said police teams were spread out at 16 locations across central and northern Nova Scotia. He said some of the victims knew Wortman, and others didn’t.
“We’re relatively confident we’ve identified all the crime scenes. We have had five structure fires, most of those being residences, and we believe there may be victims still within the remains of those homes which burned to the ground.”
The dead included a police officer. Another officer was wounded by gunfire and is now recovering at home. The dead officer was identified as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23 year veteran of the force.
“The 18 innocent lives lost will be remembered through Canada’s history.”
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau noted how close-knit the small province of Nova Scotia is.
“The vast majority of Nova Scotians will have a direct link with one or more of the victims. The entire province and country is grieving right now as we come to grips with something that is unimaginable.”
“The pandemic will prevent us from mourning together in person, but a vigil will be held virtually to celebrate the lives of the victims.”
Trudeau said the vigil will take place Friday night through a Facebook group. He asked the media to avoid mentioning the name of the assailant or showing his picture.
“Do not give this person the gift of infamy.”
The 12 hour rampage began late Saturday in the rural town of Portapique, about 100 kilometres north of Halifax, where police warned residents to lock their doors and stay in their basements as the attack unfolded. The town, like all of Canada, was adhering to the government’s advice to stay at home because of the pandemic, and most of the victims were inside when the attack began.
Authorities say several bodies were later found inside and outside one house on Portapique Beach Road, the street where the suspect lived.
Bodies were also found at other locations within about a 50 kilometre area from the neighbourhood where the shootings began, and authorities believe the shooter may have targeted his first victims but then began attacking randomly.
Police say the gunman wore a police uniform and made his car look like an RCMP cruiser.
“His ability to move around the province undetected was surely greatly benefited by the fact that he had a vehicle that looked identical in every way to a marked police car.”
Police add that the gunman was either wearing an actual police uniform or very good copy.
At one point the suspect was forced to abandon his car and carjacked other vehicles to continue to “circulate around the province steps ahead of our investigators.”
Authorities believe he acted alone. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says he was not well known to police and no note from the suspect has yet been found. She says police are still studying the crime scenes to determine what weapons were used.
According to his high school yearbook, Wortman long had a fascination with the Mounties. “Gabe’s future may include being an RCMP officer,” it said in his school yearbook profile.
Two health care workers at local nursing homes were among the dead, identified as Kristen Beaton, a continuing care assistant, and Heather O’Brien, a licensed practical nurse.
O’Brien’s daughter, Darcy Dobson, wrote in a Facebook post that, “A Monster murdered my Mother.”
“Murdered her, without a second thought. The pain comes and goes in waves. I feel like I’m outside of my own body. This can’t be real. At 9:59 am she sent her last text message to our family group chat. By 10:15 she was gone.”
Police initially said Wortman had been arrested Sunday at a gas station outside Halifax, but later said he had died. It was not clear how, and police did not provide further details, but one official said that there was an exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police.
Mass shootings are rare in Canada. The country overhauled its gun control laws after gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women and himself at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. Before this weekend’s rampage, that had been the country’s worst mass shooting.
SOURCE: The Associated Press
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