Nova Scotia

Uncle says Portapique gunman had history of rage

The uncle of the gunman responsible for the murders of 22 people in April 2020 paints a disturbing picture of the man and his family.

Warning: Details in this story are distressing and deal with intimate partner violence

A memorial in front of the RCMP detachment on April 20, 2020 in Enfield, Nova Scotia, honours RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, who was one of 22 people killed during the shooting rampage. The gunman masqueraded across rural Nova Scotia in a police uniform and mock RCMP cruiser. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)

The uncle of the gunman responsible for the murders of 22 people in rural Nova Scotia paints a disturbing picture of the man and his family.

Chris Wortman contacted the RCMP in the days immediately following the mass killings on April 18-19, 2020. Two RCMP officers flew to B.C. from Nova Scotia to interview him.

The Mass Casualty Commission investigating the killings released a transcript Friday of that interview, which was conducted on April 28, 2020.

Wortman, who was seven years older than the gunman, said the pair spent a lot of time together growing up.

"Always kind of a strange little guy, never known to have a friend," he said of his nephew, Gabriel Wortman, in an interview with RCMP Sgt. Cory Kilborn.

"He had a difficult upbringing."

Dysfunctional upbringing

Chris Wortman, himself a retired Mountie, recalled an incident involving the gunman as a boy. He said the gunman's father, Paul, loaded a .22 gun, handed it to his son and said, "Shoot" — meaning he wanted the boy to fire at him.

Wortman said police were called for that incident.

During the interview, Wortman said his family was dysfunctional and he moved away at the age of 19.

He described his nephew as a "career criminal."

"I don't know if you have to be caught to be a career criminal, but he was too smart to get caught," he said.

Wortman told police his nephew subsidized the cost of his university studies by smuggling alcohol and tobacco into Canada from the United States, and selling the contraband on the campus of the University of New Brunswick.

He said his nephew was obsessed with acquiring material things, including amassing a large collection of motorcycles, many of which were apparently destroyed when the gunman's warehouse in Portapique, N.S., was set on fire during the massacre.

'Controlling of his partner'

Wortman said he and his wife vacationed with the gunman and his partner, Lisa Banfield, in the Dominican Republic in 2016. He said his "spider sense" told him it was best to avoid his nephew after that because of his role as a police officer.

He said he never saw the gunman in person after that vacation.

Wortman said his nephew was very controlling of Banfield and criticized her appearance, but he said he never saw or heard evidence of domestic violence.

Even so, he suspected the gunman had the ability to harm her.

"In the back of my mind, I thought that if he ever does snap, it's going to be her," he said in his statement.

Wortman told the RCMP he thought his nephew was a sociopath and an untreated alcoholic who was prone to snapping, especially when he'd been drinking.

When he first heard about the killings, Wortman said he thought his nephew was mocking him. The gunman carried out his violence while disguised as a Mountie and drove in a decommissioned police cruiser he'd adapted to look like a real one.

"I'm sure he wasn't, but that's how I felt, you know, to put on a uniform and to get in a police car with all the proper decals on it," said Wortman.

"I just felt like it's just being a kick in the nuts and 'Here, have that' type thing."

Wortman said his first reaction when he saw an image of the gunman next to the mock police car he drove was that the uniform didn't look authentic, but the car could have fooled anyone.

At one point during his rampage, Wortman exited his vehicle to remove his jacket and put on a high visibility vest. (Facebook)

He confirmed to police that he gave his nephew his Red Serge ceremonial uniform and his high brown boots to include in a display that was mounted on a wall in the gunman's cottage in Portapique — the same cottage that was destroyed in one of the fires the gunman set.

A pair of Mountie boots were recovered from a parking area in a Debert, N.S., industrial park where the gunman spent the early morning hours of April 19 before he resumed his 13-hour rampage.

Wortman said he left most of the pieces of his uniform behind when he retired from the Mounties, but he added the gunman could have stolen some pieces.

He also dismissed the speculation there might have been an accomplice, saying there is no one with the same mindset who would participate in something like this.

"I knew he was always capable of killing somebody or serious harm, but not to this extent," he said. 

"I just didn't think he'd go on a rampage, you know, pulling people over and just shooting. Like, Jesus Christ! Somebody walking on the side of the road."

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

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

Sign up now

now