Nova Scotia RCMP say the fact the gunman who went on a shooting rampage last weekend looked like a police officer made trying to catch him dangerous and complicated.
Police encountered the gunman about 13 hours after the first 911 call came in on Saturday night. He was shot and killed at a gas station in Enfield at 11:26 a.m. local time on Sunday.
The gunman’s girlfriend, who escaped after an assault at her home Saturday night and hid in the woods for hours afterward, was a key witness as police tracked the gunman.
She provided details about the suspect, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, to police, Supt. Darren Campbell said during a news conference on Friday. He said police first spoke with her when she came out of hiding at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Campbell described the assault of the girlfriend as “significant,” and said that it “could very well have been a catalyst to start” the chain of events that began late Saturday night and ended the next day with 22 people dead.
But Campbell said police are not excluding the possibility that the shooting rampage was pre-meditated.
The woman told police the gunman had a replica RCMP vehicle, a uniform and weapons, Campbell said. This matched what an earlier victim who was shot but survived also told police.
The gunman used a handgun and long guns during his attack, and police say they were able to trace one weapon back to Canada. They believe the gunman obtained the other firearms from the United States.
Police were called about shots having been fired in Portapique at 10:26 p.m. on Saturday. When they arrived in the area, they spoke with a man who said he was shot by someone in a passing vehicle that looked like a police vehicle.
RCMP say they found several victims dead on the roadway and several homes were set on fire. Campbell said victims were found at seven separate locations.
There were three clusters of shooting events Saturday night and into Sunday: the first in the Portapique area, the second in Wentworth and Debert, and the third in Shubenacadie and Enfield.
Police received a second set of 911 calls on Sunday morning from an area about 60 kilometres away from where the initial attacks happened.
Campbell said many of the victims of the mass shooting died trying to help others.
“These people are true heroes,” he said. “To call this a tragedy would be an understatement.”
Police have confirmed 22 victims, including a 23-year-veteran of the RCMP, a family of three, health-care workers, an elementary school teacher and two Correctional Service Canada employees.
Trail of devastation
More than five buildings and vehicles were set alight during the rampage. One man described a harrowing escape from Wortman, who drove a replica RCMP vehicle and wore an police uniform, which has been confirmed as authentic.
RCMP have not revealed how he got the clothing.
Police have said that trying to answer the question of motive is part of the ongoing investigation into the killings.
Wortman had no criminal record but had previously received a conditional discharge and nine months probation for assaulting a male victim in 2001. The court records associated with that case reveal little about the incident.
Details have also emerged in recent days about a dispute between Wortman and his uncle over finances related to a property in Portapique that was recently bought by one of the 22 people killed on the weekend.
A judge ultimately ruled in favour of the uncle, despite Wortman’s claims that he was still owed money.