The morning after a gunman killed 13 people in northern Nova Scotia, the RCMP were unaware he had resumed shooting people until frantic 911 calls started coming in shortly after 9:30 a.m.
By that time, on April 19, 2020, four more people had been shot to death and the killer was still at large.
The inquiry investigating the murderous rampage released a key document Wednesday that provides chilling details about the mayhem that ensued as the Mounties scrambled to track down a suspect driving a replica RCMP cruiser.
“It’s the time period when the perpetrator reactivated his rampage after a brief respite overnight,” inquiry lawyer Roger Burrill told the hearing during a presentation based on the so-called foundational document. “There’s an extra level of difficulty with this presentation, in that the information is sparse.”
The document shows that after spending the night of April 18, 2020 parked in Debert, N.S., the shooter left before sunrise and drove about 40 kilometres undetected to a home in West Wentworth, N.S.
Surveillance camera footage indicates the killer arrived at the rural home of Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins on Hunter Road at 6:35 a.m.
Neighbours reported hearing gunfire at various times, but it remains unclear exactly what happened on the secluded property between 6:35 a.m. and 9 a.m. Civilian and police investigators believe the two were fatally shot inside their home before it was set on fire.
“It’s difficult to know exactly what happened at this house,” Burrill said. “This is a source of frustration in terms of the information we have.”
The inquiry has heard the couple, who both worked as correctional officers in northern Nova Scotia, were acquainted with the killer, whom police had identified the night before as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman. The document does not speculate about a motive, but the RCMP have said the killer was likely an “injustice collector” bent on settling old grudges.
The inquiry’s investigators believe neighbour Tom Bagley, a retired firefighter, was out for a morning walk some time after 8:50 a.m. when he noticed the burning home and tried to offer help. He was shot just outside the house before the killer left at around 9:20 a.m., the document says.
In a subsequent interview with his wife, Patsy, investigators learned Bagley had checked Facebook and the news before leaving for his walk, but there was no indication he or his wife learned anything about the killings the previous night in rural Portapique, N.S.
The RCMP have faced intense criticism for the way they communicated with the public during their investigation in April 2020. In particular, questions have been raised as to why the Mounties failed to use the Alert Ready system to warn Nova Scotians about an active shooter.
The system can be used to transmit urgent messages on TV, radio and wireless devices. Some critics, including relatives of some victims, have said that the Mounties’ use of Twitter to warn the public didn’t make sense because people in rural settings rarely use that form of social media.
There has also been speculation that the RCMP did not step up their warnings on the night of April 18, 2020, because of a belief that the threat had passed once the shooting stopped in Portapique. The inquiry, which started hearings Feb. 22, has heard that some Mounties assumed the shooter had killed himself in one of the community’s wooded areas on the first night.
It wasn’t until after 7:30 the next morning that police learned from Wortman’s common-law spouse that he had eluded capture in a vehicle modified to look exactly like a marked RCMP patrol car.
At 8:02 a.m., the Mounties released a brief warning on Twitter, saying for the first time they were looking for an active shooter in the Portapique area. They urged residents to stay in their homes but there was no mention of the killer’s vehicle.
Meanwhile, a resident on Hunter Road, April Dares, later told police she had spotted a “police cruiser” leaving the neighbourhood. When she turned to Facebook to ask about the gunfire she had heard earlier that day, she learned about what happened in Portapique. She called 911 at 9:32 a.m. to report a possible connection.
Minutes later, another neighbour, Carlyle Brown, called 911 to report the growing house fire down the road and the sound of gunfire. Other neighbours also called in.
Amid the chaos, the RCMP sent two broadcasts to all police radios in the area at 9:42 a.m. indicating that a woman, Lillian Campbell, had been killed on Highway 4 in the village of Wentworth, about 15 km south of Hunter Road.
That broadcast also alerted officers to the fact that a “police vehicle” had been spotted in the area.
Campbell, a retiree, was out for her morning walk when she was shot dead by the side of the road.
The suspect killed another five people, including a Mountie and a pregnant woman, before he was fatally shot just before 11:30 a.m. by an RCMP officer who spotted him refuelling a stolen car at a gas station 30 kilometres north of Halifax.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2022.
Source: CTV News