Nova Scotia

N.S. gunman fired at spouse before locking her in replica cruiser, documents say

Warning: This story includes graphic details some readers may find disturbing. The man responsible for killing 22 people in rural Nova Scotia attacked his spouse when she was in bed and fired several shots before locking her in his replica RCMP cruiser, according to newly unsealed documents.

Warning: This story includes graphic details some readers may find disturbing

The remains of a cottage and the burnt shell of a decommissioned RCMP cruiser are seen at a property in Portapique, N.S., that belonged to the gunman who killed 22 people on April 18 and 19. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The man responsible for killing 22 people in rural Nova Scotia attacked his common-law partner when she was in bed and fired several shots in her direction before locking her in his replica RCMP cruiser, according to newly unsealed documents. 

A Nova Scotia provincial court judge approved lifting redactions Thursday on much of the summary of a statement Lisa Banfield gave to police April 19, 2020, detailing the violence she endured in Portapique, N.S., on the night Gabriel Wortman killed 13 of their neighbours. 

The following morning, the denturist killed nine other people in Wentworth, Debert and Shubenacadie. Police shot and killed the 51-year-old at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., more than 13 hours after the first 911 call.

Banfield, who is now charged with two counts of unlawfully providing the gunman with ammunition, has never spoken publicly about the killings. Little is known about what she experienced or witnessed beyond the redacted summaries of statements she gave to investigators.

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)

CBC News and other media organizations have applied to the courts for access to search warrants and applications the RCMP made to gain authorization to conduct searches of properties, banking and electronic records related to the investigation into the mass killing. 

The court first released seven of the warrants in May with 1,950 redactions, but now further details have been made public. 

One section of Banfield's statement that was previously blacked out states Wortman "was abusive toward her in the past but she never reported any of the abuse." Other sections reference people recounting to police Wortman's violence toward his longtime partner. 

A woman who'd texted with Banfield the night of April 18, 2020, told investigators the gunman was a "sociopath, abusive and cheated on Lisa." 

"If anything was going to happen it was Gabriel killing Lisa and then killing himself," she told police. Her name, like those of most of the people RCMP interviewed, is redacted. 

According to the documents, on the evening of April 18, Banfield and her partner of 19 years were celebrating their anniversary over drinks. But they began arguing after announcing to two friends in Houlton, Maine on a Facetime call that they were going to have a commitment ceremony the following year. 

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A summary of Banfield's statement references both "I" and "she," making it somewhat unclear who said what. But it appears someone said "don't do it" in relation to the ceremony, which upset Banfield and "pissed off" Wortman. 

Initially, the 52-year-old woman left the large garage on Orchard Beach Road, that police refer to as the warehouse, but her statement said she returned to apologize and found Wortman mad. At that point, she returned to their cottage on Portapique Beach Road and went to bed. 

On April 19, RCMP in Nova Scotia released this photo of a mock RCMP vehicle that the Nova Scotia mass shooter drove. The RCMP say it wasn't a real cruiser, but looked identical in every way, with the exception of the numbers police circled in this photo. Lisa Banfield told police the gunman locked her in the backseat. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

Wortman came after her there and "ripped the blankets off of her and started to beat her up," according to the documents. 

He "told her to get dressed and said, 'It's done,'" the records said. He then doused the log cabin-style cottage with gasoline and told Banfield to grab a gun from inside. 

It's unclear from the documents exactly what time this happened. Banfield described that they started walking back to the warehouse, which is 1.5 kilometres by road and a much shorter distance through a wooded area. 

Barefoot in the woods

She told police that Wortman refused to let her walk behind him and "ripped her shoes off her feet." At one point, she managed to get loose but fell while running away, the documents said. The gunman grabbed her by her hair, pulled her toward the warehouse and started shooting at the ground around her feet after managing to handcuff one of her hands.

"Banfield begged Gabriel Wortman not to kill her. He shot the firearm again and then put her in the back of the police car," the documents said. 

The shooter killed 22 people and burned several buildings, including his cottage in Portapique and a large garage one street away. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The gunman had adapted one of four decommissioned cruisers he owned with police gear that included roof lights, a bar on the front bumper and a divider that separated the front and back seats. Banfield told police she was able to pry open a window in the divider, and ran into the woods while her partner was upstairs in the garage. 

She told police she heard gunshots while hiding in the woods and at one point saw a building go up in flames. Banfield didn't emerge until knocking on a neighbour's door around 6:30 a.m. AT, at which point 911 was called. 

Banfield, relatives named in lawsuit

Banfield was added as a defendant this week to the proposed class-action lawsuit launched by families of the victims. Her brother, James Banfield, and her brother-in-law, Brian Brewster, were also named as defendants.

A statement of claim in the civil case alleges that she "was aware of and facilitated Wortman's preparations, including but not limited to, his accumulation of firearms, ammunition, other weapons, gasoline, police paraphernalia, and the outfitting of a replica RCMP vehicle." The allegations have not been tested in court. 

James Banfield and Brewster are also charged with unlawfully providing the shooter with .223-calibre Remington cartridges and .40-calibre Smith & Wesson cartridges in the month leading up to the massacre. All three are due back in court March 9. 

In a separate lawsuit, Lisa Banfield is suing her former partner's estate, which is valued at $2.1 million and includes six properties, three corporations and $705,000 in cash seized from the wreckage of the cottage.

In her statement of claim, Banfield said she was the victim of assault and battery, and suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries and trauma.

Meanwhile, the commissioners in a public inquiry have been tasked with looking at the causes, context and circumstances giving rise to the tragedy, as well as the police response and the steps taken to inform, support and engage with victims, families and affected citizens. 

Their mandate includes looking at the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence as well as access to firearms.

Their final report is due by November 2022.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 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

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