Nova Scotia

22 victims confirmed dead in N.S. mass shooting

The shooting rampage that began Saturday night in Portapique, N.S., claimed the lives of nearly two dozen victims, including a pregnant continuing-care assistant and a 17-year-old girl.

The victims included a pregnant continuing-care assistant and a 17-year-old girl

A memorial has been growing at the top of Portapique Beach Rd. where RCMP have set up a roadblock for their investigation of the weekend's rampage shooting. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Twenty-two people are now confirmed dead after the shooting rampage that began Saturday in Portapique, N.S., and ended Sunday almost 100 kilometres away in Enfield.

RCMP gave the new death toll, which excludes the shooter, Tuesday night in a news release. The known victims include an elementary school teacher, two health-care workers, a family of three with a 17-year-old girl and an RCMP officer.

It's not clear if police still expect the number of victims to rise.

They also confirmed the locations across the province where they've found victims — Portapique, Wentworth, Debert, Shubenacadie and Enfield. 

"The investigative team is focused on learning more about this very tragic situation, including accurate victim information and whether others may have aided the suspect," police said.

Sixteen crime scenes

As police investigators compile evidence from the 16 crime scenes scattered around those towns, the piles of flowers and mournful notes at memorials across Nova Scotia are growing.

On Tuesday, police maintained a blockade at the top of Portapique Beach Road, where police were called to respond to a possible shooting and multiple structure fires around 11:30 p.m. Saturday. They found "several" casualties at that time. But their pursuit of the gunman continued until almost noon the next day.

Only investigators and residents were allowed to pass through the roadblock on Tuesday, but mourners of the victims stopped just before the blockade to leave tributes.

Gabrielle Sullivan-Sparks drove in from Great Village, a town 10 kilometres east, bringing a potted hydrangea and a solar-powered lamp to make sure the memorial would "have some light all the time, at night."

Sullivan-Sparks said the events of the weekend were unimaginable, especially in the rural stretch of Nova Scotia where she lives. People might get into "the odd scrap," but they usually make up over a shared drink, in the end.

The rampage ended when police shot the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, 51, who later died.

His death has been referred to the Serious Incident Response Team, Nova Scotia's police watchdog, for investigation. SIRT is investigating one other incident related to the shooting, but police will not provide details about the second investigation. 

The RCMP says its investigation into the Nova Scotia shooting rampage could take months. Kevin Bryan, a former detective with the York Regional Police forensics unit, says even with so many scenes spread out across the province, the work must be done slowly and meticulously. 9:20

Shooter was wearing an authentic RCMP uniform

The gunman was driving a replica RCMP vehicle for part of his rampage. He was also wearing an RCMP uniform, which police said was authentic, although they have not revealed how he acquired the clothing.

Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said the car and uniform are part of the reason the shooter was able to move so far and for so long without being captured.

More than five structures and cars were burnt in the course of the shooting, including homes in Portapique and Wentworth that were reduced to rubble, as firefighters were unable to tend to them while the shooting continued.

A memorial for shooting victim Lisa McCully is growing along a fence at Debert Elementary School, where she was a teacher. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Police said some victims were recovered in the remains of some of those fires. 

Beyond the police roadblock on Portapique Beach Rd. were three of the sites where homes once stood. Parked around the crime scene Tuesday were military and RCMP vehicles and an excavator. People in blue and white forensic suits moved about.

Further along the path of the rampage, near Debert, N.S., two spots along the highway also had growing memorials. One for each Kristen Beaton and Heather O'Brien, both nurses, killed by the gunman.

At Debert Elementary School, home-crafted hearts dot a chain-link fence in memory of Lisa McCully, who taught there.

'She always eked all of the beauty out of every day,' says Bonnie Williams. 'That's what I have to focus on.' 3:46

Sullivan-Sparks said the grief being felt across the province was made all the more difficult by COVID-19. Public health orders to maintain physical distancing made her contribution to the roadside memorial feel even more important, she said.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said public gatherings cannot happen right now because they could contribute to further spread of COVID-19, which has killed 10 people in the province.

"COVID-19 is not going to pause because of our pain," Strang said Monday.

Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil have asked the public to connect virtually as they grieve the victims of the shooting. They have also denied national and international media outlets that want to send reporters to cover the shooting, and have requested exceptions to the order for travellers to self-isolate for 14 days.

No emergency alert

For the past two days, McNeil has been pressed about why the province did not issue an emergency alert Saturday night or Sunday morning while the shooter moved about the province. On Monday, at the COVID-19 news briefing, McNeil said the province would have only done so if RCMP had asked, and provided the necessary details to include in the alert.

"We had staff on hand in the morning to be able to do that. But it was not requested," McNeil said.

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

About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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