Mass killings in Nova Scotia: What we know and what we don’t know


RCMP described mass killings carried out by a gunman in Nova Scotia this weekend as “tragic” and “incomprehensible.”

Police said at least 16 people are dead, including a 23-year veteran of the RCMP.

The suspected shooter is also dead.

Here’s a look at what we know — and what we don’t.

Where and how did it start?

Nova Scotia RCMP responded to numerous 911 calls about a gun-related incident late Saturday night in the small community of Portapique, 33 kilometres west of Truro, N.S.

Police said at a news conference late Sunday afternoon that they found “several” casualties inside and outside a residence, but no suspect.

Police secured the area and began a search that led to multiple sites in the area, including structures on fire. They eventually pursued the suspect across several Nova Scotia communities. The province’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), named the village of Shubenacadie as the site of a “serious criminal event.”

Crimes were scattered over at least 50 kilometres, police said. The suspect used his gun during the rampage, but may have used “other methods” as well, said RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather.

What do we know about the victims?

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said late Sunday night that the death toll had risen to at least 17, including the gunman.

The only named victim so far is RCMP veteran Const. Heidi Stevenson, who police say was killed Sunday morning responding to the incident. The married mother of two had been with the force for 23 years.

Const. Heidi Stevenson is seen in a 2015 photo posted to the Nova Scotia RCMP’s Facebook page. Police confirmed on Sunday that Stevenson was killed during a gunman’s rampage that claimed at least 16 lives, as well as his own. (Nova Scotia RCMP/Facebook)

Police said a male RCMP officer was among the injured, but didn’t release his name. His injuries are not life-threatening, Leather said.

He said the civilian deaths appeared to be at least partly random.

What do we know about the gunman?

Gabriel Wortman, 51, is suspected to be the lone person involved in the rampage.

A Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist in Dartmouth, according to the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. A suspect photo issued by the RCMP matches video footage of a man being interviewed about dentures by CTV Atlantic in 2014.

A person with the name Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist in the Halifax area on the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. He is listed as the owner of this property in Dartmouth, where police were Sunday afternoon. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Christine Mills, a resident of Portapique, said that Wortman was known locally as a denturist, who divided his time between a residence in Halifax and a residence in Portapique.

Coun. Tom Taggart, a lawmaker who represents the Portapique area in the Municipality of Colchester, said he didn’t know Wortman well, but spoke to him a few times when he telephoned about municipal issues. He described knowing Wortman’s “lovely big home” on Portapique Beach Road.

He said Wortman owned a few other properties and was believed to divide his time between Portapique and his business in Dartmouth. According to property records, Wortman owns a denture clinic and two other properties in Dartmouth and three properties in Portapique.

How did the rampage end?

The chase for Wortman eventually made its way to one of Nova Scotia’s busiest highways. It ended near a gas station in Enfield, about 35 kilometres from Halifax, where police officers shot Wortman. SIRT said in a news release Sunday night that he died at the scene.

There were half a dozen police vehicles at the gas station. Yellow police tape surrounded the gas pumps, and a large silver-coloured SUV was being investigated.

What do we know about Wortman’s thinking?

Wortman was wearing all or part of an RCMP officer’s uniform and for part of the incident was driving a mock-up made to look like an RCMP vehicle — planning that “certainly speak to it not being a random act,” Leather said.

Wortman, 51, was identified by RCMP as the gunman. (RCMP)

However, Leather also said that the killings appear to be in part “very random in nature” and that some of the victims appear to have had no relationship with him.

What we don’t know

An exact death toll: Because there were so many crime scenes, Leather said he didn’t know what the final death toll will be. It’s also unclear how many people were injured, except that it was at least two.

The circumstances surrounding Stevenson’s death: Leather said he was not at liberty to discuss the RCMP officer’s death.

Details of the circumstances around Wortman’s death are also incomplete. The police watchdog is investigating, as it does all serious incidents involving police in Nova Scotia.

WATCH | RCMP announce the death of Const. Heidi Stevenson:

RCMP officer of 23 years killed responding to active shooter

Const. Heidi Stevenson is survived by her husband and two children. Another officer was injured during the incident that occurred over the span of 12 hours across several communities.    1:05

Locations: The crime scenes are scattered across the province, and police do not yet have a list of locations or times. Some of the sites had not yet been processed as of Sunday evening, Leather said.

Motive: Leather said it was too early in the investigation to have any sense of what the motive might have been, including whether the COVID-19-related lockdown had any bearing on Wortman’s behaviour.

Leather said that for privacy reasons he couldn’t discuss Wortman’s relationships with the victims, except to say some of them appeared to have no relation to the suspect.

Commissioner Lucki said she believes there was an initial motivation that then turned to randomness.

“We don’t know for sure, and we’re going to have to do a lot of work on finding the motivation — a lot of background, a lot of profiling-type events and a lot of crime scene processing,” she said.

She said she doesn’t believe terrorism was a factor.

Leather said he expects more details to be released in the coming days.