An unsealed search warrant document related to the Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation shows that police believe the gunman was abusive, paranoid about security on his properties and one witness described him to RCMP as a “psychopath.”
The rampage unfolded over about 13 hours, beginning in the small community of Portapique the night of April 18 and ending the next morning at a gas station in Enfield, nearly 100 kilometres away, after the gunman was fatally shot by police. He killed 22 people.
On April 20, a justice of the peace authorized RCMP to search two of the gunman’s properties: his cottage on Portapique Beach Road and another property on nearby Orchard Beach Drive, which is referred to as “the warehouse” in the documents.
The order allowed police to search all the structures, outbuildings and vehicles on the properties belonging to 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman.
Document shows info police gathered
The 40-page document, known as an information to obtain a search warrant (ITO), outlines the information police gathered in the case. Multiple witnesses told police Wortman talked about having many guns, had been abusive, seemed paranoid and that the property in Portapique was equipped with a lot of security equipment.
One witness described Wortman as intelligent but, “a psychopath,” who was severely abused as a child and paranoid about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the statement detailed in the document. The same person relayed that Wortman once had a mental breakdown, and kept guns at his denturist office as well as his Portapique property.
The witness also told police that Wortman, “would dress up as a police officer and would role play. Gabriel had a whole uniform with a hat, jacket and has a vest.”
The document said one witness told police Wortman “wasn’t a police officer wannabe and didn’t like police officers and thought he was better than them.”
Several witnesses told police that the gunman had recently bought $800 worth of gas, with one person adding that they believe he’d also purchased propane bottles. Numerous statements described him as wealthy.
Another person, who had known Wortman for nine years, described him as controlling and paranoid.
The same person also told police that they had heard Wortman talk about, “getting rid of bodies, burning and chemicals.” They said he kept lime and muriatic acid under his deck.
The statements outlined in the document have not been tested in court.
Document includes redactions
Sgt. Angela Hawryluk, a 28-year veteran of the force, outlined the information she gathered to support the search warrant application. It includes conversations with the officers investigating the case and their reports and emails. The document, which includes redactions, outlines statements made by witnesses and people who knew the gunman.
A justice of the peace approved Hawryluk’s request that the document be sealed.
CBC News made an application to unseal the court records in April in the hope they would offer insight into what RCMP knew about the gunman and when they became aware of that information.
In a hearing in Truro provincial court Tuesday morning, Judge Laurel Halfpenny MacQuarrie agreed to sign an order authorizing the release of one of the ITOs, which spells out evidence investigators gathered to request a search warrant.
The Crown redacted the document after consulting with the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency, which is involved in the investigation because several of the firearms are believed to have come from the United States.
Statement from common-law spouse
The document includes a summary of the statement Wortman’s common-law spouse gave police. She told them that on the evening of April 18, they’d been having drinks and FaceTiming friends at the “warehouse” — a garage with an attached apartment at the Orchard Beach Drive property.
The person’s name is redacted, but police previously said Wortman committed a serious assault on April 18 on his common-law spouse, who survived the attack, hid and then subsequently shared information with RCMP. The court document said a witness emerged from the woods at 6:34 a.m. on April 19.
The spouse told police she saw Wortman pour accelerant in the cottage and the warehouse, as well as on his Ford-150 truck, a black Jeep and a Ford Taurus.
She said Wortman owned military-style guns and had several firearms in the front seat of one of the vehicles he’d designed to look like an RCMP cruiser on the night of April 18.
The woman heard shots as she hid in the woods overnight and ran to a neighbour’s home to call 911 when she emerged, the document said. She told police Wortman had smashed her cellphone and she couldn’t access any others.
Man shot but survived
The court document also offers insight into an attack on two other people, one of whom was shot.
On the night of April 18, the pair called 911 and while still on the phone, drove toward a home burning in Portapique. Upon arrival, they noticed what appeared to be a police vehicle parked outside. Assuming it was an officer, the witnesses said they rolled down the window when the vehicle pulled up along beside them. But at that point the man — who one witness later identified as Wortman — pulled out a handgun and shot at them two or three times.
Realizing what was happening, they ducked. One of the people in the car was shot, the other wasn’t injured. They “sped away” and encountered actual RCMP officers called to the area and reported to them what happened. The man who was shot later found a bullet under his shirt while he was waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
‘Come out with your hands up’
In a statement to RCMP, an acquaintance who first met the gunman eight years ago noted that they called 911 when they learned on the morning of April 19 that Wortman was wanted by police. About 10 to 15 minutes later, a marked police car showed up in the acquaintance’s driveway in Glenholme, N.S. It was Wortman, and they called 911 again.
Much of the statement is redacted but it says the witness said they could hear a helicopter nearby and eventually heard their doorbell ring and they thought Wortman entered the house. Then they heard banging on the glass and someone said, “Come out with your hands up, Gabriel, come out with your hands up.”
They then got a call saying Wortman had moved on toward the community of Lower Onslow and that they should remain inside.
When police shot Wortman in Enfield, N.S., officers found five firearms and a can of ammunition in the stolen vehicle he was driving.
The RCMP examined the guns and found they included a rifle with the selector switch set to fire and a shoulder strap. Another semi-automatic rifle had a round in the chamber, as did a pistol, and spent shell casings from the pistol were found in the car, according to the ITO. A second pistol had the hammer cocked and the safety off.
The calibres of the firearms are redacted.
Wortman also had Const. Heidi Stevenson’s 9-mm Smith & Wesson service pistol in the stolen vehicle. The service revolver was missing two magazines.
Crown redacting 6 other ITOs
The documents said that because the Portapique properties were damaged by fire, the RCMP were bringing in a forensic anthropologist to search the fire scenes. The expert was requested on April 20, but scheduling meant they couldn’t arrive from Ontario until April 26.
It’s still not clear what, if anything, was seized from the two Portapique properties. The actual search warrant, as well as a return, which can outline what evidence was seized, has not yet been released.
There are another six search warrants that federal and provincial Crown prosecutors are in the process of redacting in consultation with the RCMP and CBSA.
The next court hearing about the application to unseal documents has been set for May 25, by which point the Crown said redactions of six other ITOs will be complete.
Several other media outlets, including CTV, Global News, the Globe and Mail, Postmedia, The Canadian Press, the SaltWire Network and the Halifax Examiner joined CBC’s application and are also represented by Halifax lawyer David Coles.