As It Happens

Neighbour who warned RCMP about N.S. shooter's domestic violence says she was 'scared to death' of him 

Brenda Forbes says she was so afraid of her neighbour Gabriel Wortman that she sold her Portapique, N.S., home and left town. 

Brenda Forbes says she sold her home and left town to get away from Gabriel Wortman

Flowers pile up at a makeshift memorial in the small community of Portapique, N.S. (Jonathan Villeneuve/Radio-Canada)
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Warning: This story contains descriptions of domestic violence. 


Transcript

Brenda Forbes says she was so afraid of her neighbour Gabriel Wortman that she sold her Portapique, N.S., home and left town. 

Six years later, she says Wortman burned that house to the ground and killed everyone inside.

Wortman killed 22 people across various Nova Scotia communities last month and burned a number of homes before police shot and killed him outside a gas station in Enfield. He is believed to have perpetrated the worst mass killing in Canadian history. 

But years before that, in 2013, Forbes says she warned the RCMP that Wortman was a dangerous man who beat his girlfriend and kept a cache of weapons in his home. That's the same girlfriend who police say Wortman beat and bound at the start of his murderous rampage. She escaped and hid in the woods. 

The Nova Scotia RCMP say they have no record of Forbes' complaint and their investigation into the shooting is ongoing. 

"We are looking into the gunman's previous relationships and interactions," Cst. Hans Ouellette said in an email. 

Forbes, who first told her story to the Halifax Examiner and The Canadian Press, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of their conversation. 

Brenda, how would you describe your former neighbour, Gabriel Wortman?

One word. Psychopath.

Is that how you would have described him before you knew what he did?

Oh yeah. Both me and my husband knew what he was like. And I let other people in the community know the same thing and what he had been doing with [his partner]. A lot of them just said to me, "Oh no, he's not like that."

How did he treat her?

Like his possession.

He drank quite a bit, and when he drank, he got violent. And he had her totally under his control.

You witnessed that he was physically abusing her as well. What can you tell us about that?

The first time … she ran over to my house, actually, and she said that he'd been beating her and he had blocked her car in so she couldn't get away.

I said, "You need to get help." 

And she said, "No, I can't, because he will hurt me again."

There was a second time, another incident, I understand, where you wanted to get the RCMP involved. Can you tell us about that?

He got into drinking. She was there. And there were three other people that were there, three other guys.

One of the guys told me he had her on the ground, was strangling her and screaming at her. And she actually said, "Don't get involved or you're only going to make it worse.".

One of the guys told me what happened. So I said, "That's it. It's done."

I went into work and I called the RCMP and they came down to see me. 

I told them what the one fella had told me had happened. And I also said that he has a bunch of illegal weapons as well.

And he said, "Can you get one of these guys to confirm what you just said?"

I said, "I will try. I will call one of them," which I did.

And I said [to the witness], "Would you be willing to talk to the RCMP?" And the answer I got back was, "No way. ... He'll kill me."

The faces of some of the victims killed by a gunman in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

You and your husband said that you knew that he had these illegal firearms. How did you know?

We're military, or we were. We're both retired now. And he'd had us at his house when he first moved there, and he showed them to us. 

And we knew right away that there is no way that he would have got them here in Canada, number one, and he didn't have an FAC [Firearms Acquisition Certificate].

And he actually asked us, because we were military, if we could get him a weapon or ammunition. 

My husband's like, "What? No way. That's against the law."

Did you ever tell the RCMP that you saw those firearms?

When I had that interview with them, I told them then.

They said ... we had to have, like, pictures or proof that he actually had these weapons. We didn't have that. 

So there was nothing, basically nothing, at that time that they could do.

I understand that you came to be personally afraid of him. From time to time you had seen other women at his place when his partner wasn't there. And you came to tell one of your neighbours about that.

He dragged her over to my house, pounded on the door. My husband answered the door and [Wortman] ... started screaming.

I came downstairs, and he was screaming at me.

And I said, "If the shoe fits, wear it." I said, "I've seen countless women at your place."

And he grabbed her, hauled her out the door, and he said, "You're going to pay for this" to me.

Well, after that, she was no longer allowed to talk to me, come anywhere near me, nothing.

My husband ended up going to Africa for the military, and I was basically by myself. I would go to work and come back. And as soon as I got home, he'd show up in his vehicle, park it right outside my house, get out, stand and stare at the house for a good half-hour. And he did that for a few days.

And I went, this is crazy. I'm scared to death now. 

I could no longer live like that. My husband came home from Africa and I let him know what had been going on.

[Wortman] showed up again, and [my husband] is like,"Yeah, we're more moving."

So we put the house up for sale and it took over a year to sell it. We took a huge loss in it, because I just wanted to get out of there.

The one thing that I have regret about was the people that bought the house. I should have let them know what he was like, because they ended up getting killed too.

The laws have to change. If somebody gets, whether it be male or female, if they get assaulted, if they're abused or whatever and somebody reports it for them because they're too afraid to, it should be looked at right away.- Brenda Forbes, former neighbour of the Nova Scotia shooter

So the people who bought your house were killed?

Yeah, and he burned the house down.

When you learned that, what effect did it have on you?

I'm going to say that he burned that house down not because the people that were living there, but because of me.

It just rocked my world. And for somebody with PTSD [from the military], it's a little bit harder.

Brenda, I'm so sorry. That's just simply awful. But you can't feel you're responsible for that in any way.

It's hard not to.

But you're not. And you did everything you could. And when he was menacing you at your door when you were alone in the house, did you report him?

No, because the thing with being in the military, the words were, "Suck it up, princess." Right? You're tough. You're a soldier. Just soldier on.

So, no. Ugh. This is hard.

I can hear that it's very, very painful to talk about this, especially the fear that you had as well. On the night of April 18th, [when] you heard the story of this shooting ... in your neighborhood, did you immediately think of your neighbour?

Oh, I knew it was him. And the first person I thought of was her.

Right away, I called the RCMP and let them know everything.

And they've interviewed you since?

I've had probably, I don't know, four or five interviews. 

A Wentworth volunteer firefighter douses hotspots near destroyed vehicles linked to the killings. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)

Have you been able to speak with [Wortman's former partner] since?

I haven't spoken with her. No.

Would you like to?

Yes, I would. But I don't think she really wants to talk to anybody right now.

What would you say to her if you could?

How much I feel for her. How much I know that she had to go through. Everything. I'm just glad she's OK. 

Do you know if she has friends, if anyone is helping her, if she has a circle of any kind?

When she was with him, she really wasn't allowed to have friends. But she does have a good family.

When you reflect on this and what you knew over the years that you were observing this, are your thoughts that this possibly could have been prevented?

Yes.

The laws have to change. If somebody gets, whether it be male or female, if they get assaulted, if they're abused or whatever and somebody reports it for them because they're too afraid to, it should be looked at right away.

And if you report anybody that has what you know are illegal weapons, whether you have pictures or what of it, if somebody reports that, it should be investigated, like, yesterday.

Is that why you came forward to tell your story? You want to get that message out?

No.

When I first saw the stuff happening on the news and I saw neighbours and stuff saying, "Oh, he was such a nice guy," I went ballistic.

So you wanted people to know what he was about.

When I was still living there and I let people around me that were living there know what he had done and what he was like, they were saying, "Oh no, he's not like that."

Well, now I'm getting bunches of e-mails from people that were there that I told about what he was doing and stuff. And they're all apologizing to me. 

That doesn't work for me. You didn't believe me in the beginning. I'm not a crazy lady. What I said was true. And it just irritates me now that, oh, you finally realize it after everybody's dead.

Sorry, I'm getting a little upset here.

Brenda, you are entitled to be upset. And I just want to make sure that you're OK, that when we let you go, you've got someone to talk to or to be there with you.

Yes, I have a service dog and my husband.

OK, Brenda. You've been very generous and I know we walked you through a lot of really painful stuff. But I think people appreciate knowing what you've been able to tell them. Thank you.

You're welcome. 


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Canadian Press. Interview produced by Kate Swoger and Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 
 

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