Nova Scotia

Loved ones faced agonizing wait for information at 2nd N.S. mass shooting location

After a gunman set ablaze a home in Wentworth, N.S., during the April 2020 mass shooting, neighbours called for help and feared the worst. But even after a man’s body was discovered nearby, it took hours for RCMP to break the news to his wife just down the street.

Warning: details included in this story are disturbing

Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins, who were killed in Wentworth, N.S., were father and stepmother to two daughters. They loved to host friends and their home on Hunter Road was always welcoming. (Facebook)

When Dan Jenkins arrived in Wentworth, N.S., looking for news about his daughter, Alanna, after learning her house was burned and neighbours had heard gunshots, he came upon a roadblock and walked up to an RCMP officer stationed nearby. 

The officer pointed a rifle at him and ordered him to put his hands up. The Mountie told him to return to his vehicle and took his phone number. 

It wasn't until the next day that someone from the RCMP contacted Dan and his wife, Sue Jenkins. Eventually an officer told them it was unlikely their daughter had survived the fire. It would be at least six weeks before the medical examiner's office confirmed their fears: Alanna Jenkins and her partner, Sean McLeod, were among 22 people killed by a gunman on April 18-19, 2020. 

The account of Dan and Sue Jenkins and notes from officers who responded are included in documents released Wednesday by the Mass Casualty Commission, offering new details of what happened at the second location of the mass shooting.

They detail how that sunny spring morning several neighbours on Hunter Road in Wentworth became concerned after hearing shots and later discovering a fire at McLeod and Jenkins's home. 

The records also show that Jenkins's parents were not the only ones waiting for dreaded news. It took RCMP about three hours to inform the wife of Tom Bagley, who had gone out for his usual morning walk, that neighbours had found his lifeless body steps from the rubble of McLeod and Jenkins's home.

Patsy Bagley later told the commission she questioned "why the RCMP could not have come to her sooner" given officers were just 400 metres away, the documents show. 

Tom Bagley was a retired navy veteran and firefighter. (Robert Short/CBC)

The horror started the night before, 55 kilometres away in a tiny subdivision in Portapique, N.S., where Gabriel Wortman killed 13 neighbours and torched several buildings, including his cottage.

After taking a break overnight, he drove in a replica RCMP vehicle along a quiet two-lane highway to McLeod and Jenkins's home. Several surveillance cameras captured his movements as he approached around 6:30 a.m. Nearly three hours later, they showed the cruiser going in the opposite direction.

The public inquiry has determined that based on the analysis of forensic evidence, "it appears plausible" the gunman shot Jenkins and that MacLeod "may have been shot" before he lit their home on fire. When the shooter left around 9:20 a.m., their two dogs were also dead and their home facing the Wallace River was in flames. 

It's never been clear why the gunman targeted McLeod and Jenkins, who both worked as corrections managers at nearby penitentiaries, or what exactly he did during the nearly three hours spent at their home. He had known the couple for years and they socialized from time to time, but friends and family said they weren't close. 

WATCH | Amielia McLeod says her dad and stepmom were loving, welcomed everyone:

Daughter of N.S. shooting victim reflects on dad's life

2 years ago
Duration 0:17
Amielia McLeod — whose father, Sean McLeod, and stepmother, Alanna Jenkins, were killed in the April 2020 Nova Scotia shootings — tells The Fifth Estate her dad and stepmom's home was 'always welcoming.'

The documents released by the public inquiry show five people who lived on Hunter Road recalled hearing gunshots that morning beginning at some time after 6 a.m. 

Some also heard an animal's yelp. CBC spoke to half a dozen households on Hunter Road about what they saw and heard that morning and some neighbours said people were known to shoot at nuisance animals, so gunfire wasn't that out of the ordinary. 

But in those early hours people did start making connections and realized that something was wrong. After waking up, Jody MacBurnie learned his cousin and coworker Greg Blair and his wife Jamie had been murdered in Portapique. He also remembered his close friends McLeod and Jenkins, who lived down the street, knew the man he had heard killed the Blairs.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

MacBurnie and his wife became concerned after McLeod and Jenkins — always quick to respond — didn't text them back. By 9:19 a.m., MacBurnie was so worried he called the number for the RCMP detachment in the nearby community of Oxford. He later told investigators the person he reached told him to stay inside and they'd try to send someone. 

MacBurnie hung up the phone and was standing in his yard when he was surprised to see what looked like a police car driving by, heading in the opposite direction of McLeod and Jenkins's home. He told his wife how strange that was given the Mounties had just said they were tied up.

It would be another hour before police tweeted that their suspect, who they'd been searching for since the previous night, was driving a replica cruiser. 

Several surveillance cameras along Hunter Road in Wentworth captured images of what looked to be an RCMP cruiser driving past homes around 6:30 a.m. Nearly three hours later, it passed going in the opposite direction. (Submitted)

The MacBurnies were among those who began messaging back and forth in a Facebook group. 

By 9:32 a.m., April Dares — who was in touch with them — called 911 to explain she'd heard gunshots earlier that morning. While on the line she told the dispatcher she'd also seen an RCMP vehicle passing a few minutes earlier. She called back minutes later to report the fire and "more gunshots," the commission stated in a document summarizing what happened. 

It detailed that over a 20-minute period, three other neighbours called reporting the sound of gunshots, explosions and the fire. 

'We could feel the heat'

Lisa and Darrol Thurier previously told the CBC's The Fifth Estate they heard a single gunshot some time before 9 a.m. while they were outside doing yard work and a few minutes later felt a blast, which made their windows rattle. Both former military members, the couple said they had never experienced anything like it. 

By around 10 a.m., with smoke visible from the McLeod and Jenkins home, the Thuriers ventured over to see what was happening and stood at the top of the long driveway. 

"We could feel the heat, it was that intense," Lisa Thurier told The Fifth Estate in the fall of 2020. 

"We met the volunteer firefighter who lives up the road, he was down there, and I said, 'Is the fire department coming,' you know. He said, 'No, they are on stand down because there's an active shooter in the area.'"

Wentworth volunteer firefighters douse hotspots as an excavator digs through the rubble of McLeod and Jenkins's destroyed home. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)

Thinking McLeod and Jenkins might have sheltered at a nearby home, they dropped by the Bagleys, learning Tom had gone out for his morning walk around 8:50 a.m. and never returned. 

The Thuriers told CBC that Bagley, a retired firefighter, would stop by his neighbours to check in during the best of times so it was no surprise that he would have gone to see if anyone needed help if he spotted smoke or an RCMP vehicle.  

After driving up and down their road looking for him, they returned to McLeod and Jenkins's home once again around 11 a.m. after learning Darrol's son had discovered Bagley's badly burned body. 

Lisa Thurier called 911 at 11:07 a.m. and was transferred to Emergency Health Services. 

"They said, 'Can you verify that there's no life?' And I said, 'Well, sure,' and I went over and actually got close to him, and I said, 'No, there's definitely no signs of life,'" she later recalled to CBC. 

WATCH | Friends remember retired veteran and firefighter Tom Bagley

New Brunswicker killed in Nova Scotia shooting remembered as hero, life saver

3 years ago
Duration 2:31
How the daughter and friends of Tom Bagley, a New Brunswicker killed in the Nova Scotia shooting, will remember him.

Lisa Thurier told the 911 dispatcher Bagley's name and where he lived, according to a transcript of the call released by the inquiry. She was on the phone when the first RCMP officers arrived.

They shared that information again with the Mounties, who cancelled the request for an ambulance citing it was a police matter and began searching the property, inquiry documents show. 

"We gave them his name, and told him his cottage is right up there and his wife is up there, waiting for him," Darrol Thurier told The Fifth Estate

"We offered, 'Do you want us to over and tell Patsy? She's a friend of ours.' They said, 'No, we want you to go home and don't speak to anybody,'" Lisa Thurier added. 

Not far away, Patsy Bagley was anxiously waiting for word about her husband. She told the commission she knew something was wrong when he didn't return home for lunch. After learning there was a gunman on the loose she asked Dares to report him as a missing person, commission documents state.

The record says it wasn't until either 2:15 p.m. or 2:50 p.m. — by which point commission documents show six Mounties had responded to Hunter Road — that officers went to see Patsy Bagley and tell her her husband had been killed, though they didn't get into details. Bagley and the officer's accounts of the time differ. 

By that point, it had been several hours since RCMP officers shot and killed the gunman at a gas station 120 kilometres away in Enfield, N.S. Investigators were still discovering some of the more than 16 crime scenes in several rural communities.

Breaking news 'hardest job' of RCMP

Dave Lilly, a now-retired RCMP sergeant who was among the officers who attended the scene in Wentworth, said it's crucial to confirm someone's identity with absolute certainty.

"To tell someone a loved one is deceased is one of the hardest jobs that a police officer has to do. It's terrible, so we have to be 100 per cent right," he wrote Wednesday to CBC.

Lilly said that involves checking records to cross reference driver's licence photos and other information on file.

He said identifying someone definitively can be further complicated if someone's body is burned and often it takes longer than three hours. The public inquiry records state Bagley's body was burned and that police called his wife to ask about his tattoos before notifying her of his death. 

The home of McLeod and Jenkins was set on fire by the gunman and burned to the foundation. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The RCMP said in a statement that the process for notifying next of kin depends on the circumstances. The public inquiry plans to release a document about how families were notified about the mass shooting, so Cpl. Chris Marshall said it would not be appropriate to comment on the specifics of what happened in Wentworth. 

In an interview with the commission, Bagley said she never understood why police couldn't have gone to her home earlier given the Thuriers had identified him. 

The Thuriers said they waited for about four hours until Patsy Bagley called. 

"So we went down that night and we apologized profusely, because we knew, all that time," Lisa Thurier said. 

Meanwhile, the Jenkins family, who had been in touch with the MacBurnies and McLeod's two daughters, had also been calling looking for information and eventually decided to drive from their home in Pictou County, arriving in Wentworth around 4:40 p.m. They returned home without answers. 

WATCH | The Fifth Estate chronicles 13 hours of mayhem that constitute one of Canada's deadliest events:

Thirteen Deadly Hours: The Nova Scotia Shooting

2 years ago
Duration 45:10
The Fifth Estate presents a comprehensive inquiry into this year's mass shooting in Nova Scotia, chronicling 13 hours of mayhem that constitute one of Canada's deadliest events. [Correction: In the video, we incorrectly said officers jumped out of a cruiser outside the Onslow fire hall and began firing. In fact, the person who was interviewed said it was not a cruiser and she believed it was a Hyundai. Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team has since found that it was an unmarked police vehicle.]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 13 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's The Fifth Estate

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