Nova Scotia

Residents told police name of gunman, car details while he was still in Portapique

During the chaotic first hour of the Portapique shootings, RCMP were told the gunman’s name and that he was driving what looked like a marked police car. It is also now clear that multiple people narrowly missed crossing paths with gunman.

Warning: This story contains distressing details

Amid their manhunt on April 19, 2020, Nova Scotia RCMP tweeted this picture of the mock police vehicle used in the shootings. The tweet said "There's one difference between (the suspect's) car and our RCMP vehicles: the car number." (Nova Scotia RCMP)

During the chaotic first hour of the Portapique, N.S., shootings, RCMP were told the name of the gunman and that he was driving what looked like a marked police car. They were also told that there was a little-used back way out of the community.

It is also now clear that multiple people either narrowly missed crossing paths with gunman Gabriel Wortman as he moved around the subdivision, or passed directly by him as he sat in his fake police cruiser.

Details from various witnesses who spoke with 911 dispatchers or police the night of April 18 and the early hours of April 19 are outlined in a document released by the Mass Casualty Commission on Monday. It examines the April 2020 massacre by a man disguised as a Mountie that left 22 people dead, injured several others and traumatized many more in rural Nova Scotia. Some of the accounts have never been shared publicly. 

The document explains the shooter's possible movements the night he attacked his neighbours, killing 13 of them in a small corner of Portapique, N.S., 40 kilometres west of Truro. It all happened over about 45 minutes and he overlapped with police in the community for about 20 minutes, driving within a few hundred metres of the first officer on scene.

The first person to name the gunman was Jamie Blair, who was later killed. She called 911 at 10:01 p.m. to say that her neighbour on Orchard Beach Drive had just shot her husband Greg on their front deck.

She said there was a "police car" in the driveway that was decked out and labelled like an RCMP car, but said "it's not a police officer." Blair added her neighbour was a denturist.

Jamie Blair, left, and Greg Blair are shown in a family handout photo. The Mass Casualty Commission believes they were the first people killed on April 18, 2020. (Kelly Blair/The Canadian Press)

Blair then spotted the gunman coming up the deck with a large gun, and took her two children into her bedroom to hide. She remained on the phone with 911, and identified the shooter as "Gabriel."

At 10:16, one of the Blair children called 911 from the house next door, and also gave details about the vehicle.

"It was a police car. I — I couldn't find, I couldn't find the ah, the ah license," the child said.

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)

At 10:22 p.m., the child told 911 that his younger brother and another child were "watching him go back and forth … Gabriel in his car."

Then around 10:28 p.m, the children again referenced his first name and that "he works in Halifax as a denture person."

Another resident, Richard Ellison, whose son, Corrie, was murdered, also identified the gunman twice to police before midnight.

Close call

One couple, Andrew and Kate MacDonald, gave police more details about the gunman, after he shot at their own car when they came to investigate the fires.

They left their home on Portapique Beach Road around 10 p.m. and drove by the gunman's warehouse on Orchard Beach Drive, which was engulfed in flames. 

At 10:25, Andrew MacDonald called 911 to report the warehouse fire and then turned back up the road.

He then told the 911 dispatcher he saw an "officer" coming around. The replica cruiser then pulled up alongside them.

The burned out remains of the gunman's home on Portapique Beach Road, N.S., taken May 13, 2020. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The couple said they saw the beam of a laser sight as the shooter pulled out a gun. They ducked down, still on the phone with 911, and the gunman shot their car twice, hitting Andrew MacDonald in the arm and grazing his head.

He identified the shooter as his neighbour, Gabe.

Documents released by the Mass Casualty Commission on Monday reveal the couple sped off and the gunman followed in his car. They soon hit the intersection and turned right onto Portapique Beach Road, when at 10:28 p.m. they found Const. Stuart Beselt, the first officer on scene. A handful of other Mounties arrived within minutes and stayed with the couple until ambulances took them to hospital.

MacDonald told the officers on the ground about what happened with his neighbour "Gabe," while his wife stayed on with 911 and was soon transferred to the RCMP's risk manager.

She told him the suspect's name as well, and he had shot them from a police car that was white with stripes but no roof lights.

An aerial map of Portapique from May 2020 with street names added by the Mass Casualty Commission. (Mass Casualty Commission)

At some point between 10:33 p.m. and 10:45 p.m., Kate MacDonald told a police officer at the scene about a back way out of the community, which the officer radioed out at 10:48 p.m. The woman said the road came out near an old church on Highway 2, but did not know the name.

After being released from hospital, Andrew MacDonald gave police more details about the gunman in the marked car around 5 a.m. He described it as a white Taurus with RCMP markings, including vinyl decals.

He also told them about the back road and explained its location.

Headlights 'zipping' out

It's this back road where one family spotted headlights from their home on Portapique Crescent at a key time.

The vehicle was "zipping" down what's commonly known as "blueberry field road" around 10:45 p.m., according to the documents.

 Patricia Zimmerman was chatting with her sister when she saw the headlights "moving fast" around 10:45 p.m. up an unofficial road to the east that connects with Highway 2 via the Brown Loop.     

The lights were moving like a "bat out of hell" down what's known locally as the "blueberry field road," Patricia said in an interview with the commission. The road is on private property and has a gate that was sometimes locked. 

An aerial image showing the community of Portapique, N.S. In the foreground is the road along the edge of a blueberry field that the gunman is believed to have driven on when he left the community. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Meanwhile, another family and a volunteer firefighter had especially close calls as they checked out the fires raging in Portapique.

David Faulkner happened to be driving by the area on Highway 2 with his partner and their daughter when they saw flames lighting up the sky. He'd been a resident of the community for 20 years, and stopped in to check on a friend.

When he didn't get an answer at his friend's house, he started to leave but came upon two cars side by side.

He heard two "explosions or gunshots" and saw both cars take off quickly. The man trailed them slowly until they reached the intersection, and followed one car right onto Portapique Beach Road. 

Faulkner passed within just a few feet of the "cop car," which had stopped at the intersection and had no lights on at all.

"Which seemed strange, so we just made the corner and kept on going for some reason. Why, I have no idea. I'm glad I did now," Faulkner later told police. He later learned it was the gunman's car and it turned in the opposite direction of where the first officers on scene were arriving. 

Around the same time, a volunteer firefighter who lived in a nearby community grabbed his gear and arrived at the area facing the blueberry field road at about 10:45 p.m. The gunman is believed to have escaped that same location just moments before. 

Many other Portapique residents walked and drove around the community during the time the gunman was active. They were looking into the fires, warning neighbours about the flames, or calling 911 to report gunshots. 

Some people were eventually contacted by officers on foot or by phone and warned to shelter in place, before officers cleared the area and said they could leave some hours later.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Haley Ryan

Reporter

Haley Ryan is a reporter based in Halifax. Got a story idea? Send an email to haley.ryan@cbc.ca, or reach out on Twitter @hkryan17.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now