Nova Scotia

Woman who survived deadliest U.S. mass shooting relives her nightmare in rural N.S.

Over the weekend, Tonya Dort found herself in a nightmare she hoped never to relive — an active shooter in her area. Dort and her husband, Kevin, are survivors of the Las Vegas tragedy. Now, they've lived through one of the worst shootings in modern Canadian history as well.

'It's going to be a long road, but there is hope,' says Masstown, N.S., resident

Tonya and Kevin Dort of Masstown, N.S., survived a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017. (Submitted by Tonya Dort)

Over the weekend, Tonya Dort found herself in a nightmare she hoped never to relive — an active shooter in her area.

Dort and her husband, Kevin, are survivors of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. Now, they've lived through one of the worst shootings in modern Canadian history as well.

On Sunday morning, Dort was driving back to her home in Masstown, N.S., from Truro, where her grandmother had passed away in a nursing home that morning. She noticed a big police presence on the way.

"I could see men in helmets and I could see rifles coming out of vehicles," she said. 

"I'm swearing in the car, shaking … and you're like, 'What's going on?' And you instantly go into fight or flight."

One of her sons called during her drive, warning there was an active shooter at large.

Dort hurried home. She and her family locked down their house and waited for news.

The Dorts are shown at the concert before the shooting happened. (Submitted by Tonya Dort)

They would later learn that at least 19 people were dead in a killer's rampage in Nova Scotia, including a teacher, two health-care workers, a family of three and an RCMP officer. The suspect also died.

Masstown is about 20 minutes east of Portapique, where the events began.

"We called our other children and made sure that they were safe," said Dort. "And it's like, 'Oh my God, here we go again.'"

'The worst night of our lives'

Dort remembers Oct. 1, 2017 as "the worst night of our lives." 

She and her husband were vacationing with another couple, enjoying a concert at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip when a gunman opened fire.

At first, they thought it was fireworks. But after they realized what it was, they ran for their lives amid chaos.

"For 23 minutes we were under gunfire," she said. "We did get separated from our friends. We ran in one direction, they ran in another."

A small memorial for Const. Heidi Stevenson was put up outside RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S., on Monday. (Héloise Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada)

The Dorts ended up in the basement of a nearby hotel, where they were locked down with about 100 people for nine hours. Their friends had run to safety elsewhere.

The two couples survived the ordeal, but many did not. The attack killed nearly 60 people and left hundreds more with injuries.

Dort said she's struggled in the years that followed. She left her 23-year position with Canada Post, has undergone counselling and lives with PTSD.

"When you go through an event like this, you see things that you never want to see in your life," she said.

"You're left with sort of an identity crisis, because you're robbed of your security, you're robbed of your feeling of safety, you're robbed of so many traits."

'It can happen anywhere'

Dort said what happened Sunday in Nova Scotia is a horrible reminder that this kind of violence isn't restricted to big cities.

"It can happen anywhere. And it has," she said. 

"And the closer it gets to home, the more real it becomes for people. And, unfortunately, it's real in our own neighbourhood."

The scope of the tragedy is huge. Tributes have poured in across the province and the country, honouring the victims through music, memorials, kind words, and flags flying at half-mast.

RCMP say at least 19 people are dead following the Nova Scotia mass shooting. Some victims were believed to be known to the assailant, others were not. 3:33

Many communities touched by the rampage are beginning to grieve, but Dort said there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

What's important, she said, is to reach out to those who may be struggling. For those struggling, she said it is valuable to take comfort in friends and family, even if it has to be done remotely because of COVID-19.

"It's going to be a long road, but there is hope. Those feelings that are so heightened right now, they do subside … the intensity will come down," she said. 

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians. 

About the Author

Alex Cooke

Reporter/editor

Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

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