Police officers deliver a news conference concerning the deadly shooting rampage in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. AFP
A gunman disguised as a police officer went on a 12-hour rampage in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, shooting people in their homes, setting fires and killing at least 18 people, including a policewoman, in the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.
Officials said the suspect, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was also among the dead in the weekend attack. Police did not provide a motive for the killings.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the gunman killed at least 18
"The vast majority of Nova Scotians will have a direct link with one more more of victims. The entire province and country is grieving right now as we come to grips with something that is unimaginable,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau asked the media to avoid mentioning the name of the assailant or showing his picture.
"Do not give this person the gift of infamy," he said.
Police began advising residents overnight Saturday in the rural town of Portapique, about 100 kilometres north of Halifax, to lock their doors and stay in their basements.
Several bodies were later found inside and outside one home on Portapique Beach Road, the street where the suspect lived, authorities said.
Bodies were also found at several other locations within about a 50-kilometre area from the neighborhood where the shootings began late Saturday, and authorities believe the shooter may have targeted his first victims but then began attacking randomly. Several homes in the area were set on fire.
At least four white forensic vans were seen on Monday morning entering the neighborhood where the shootings began.
Authorities said the suspected gunman wore a police uniform at one point and made his car look like a Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser.
"That fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act,” Mounted Police Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said. He said many of the victims did not know the shooter and authorities believe he acted alone.
According to his high school yearbook, Wortman long had a fascination with the Mounties."Gabe’s future may including being an RCMP officer,” the yearbook profile said.
The dead officer was identified as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23-year veteran of the force. Another officer was wounded.
Also among the dead was school teacher Lisa McCully, who worked at a local elementary school. Nova Scotia Teachers Union President President Paul Wozney said. "Our hearts are broken along with those of her colleagues and students at Debert Elementary," he said.
Two health care workers at local nursing homes were also among those killed, according to Von Canada, a long term health care company, which identified them as Heather O’Brien, a licensed practical nurse, and Kristen Beaton, a continuing care assistant.
Wortman, who owned a denture practice in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, lived part time in Portatipique, according to residents of the town.
Police initially said Wortman had been arrested on Sunday at a gas station in Enfield, outside Halifax, but later said he had died. It was not clear how, and they did not provide further details, although one police official said that there was an exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police at one point.
RCMP officers investigate a vehicle in Debert, Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia, Canada. John Morris/Reuters
Cpl. Lisa Croteau, a spokeswoman with the provincial force, said police received a call about "a person with firearms” late on Saturday night, and the investigation "evolved into an active shooting investigation.”
Christine Mills, a resident of the area, said it had been a frightening night for the small town, with armed officers patrolling the streets. In the morning, helicopters flew overhead searching for the suspect. "It’s nerve-wracking because you don’t know if somebody has lost their mind and is going to beat in your front door," she said.
Tom Taggart, a lawmaker who represents the Portapique area in the Municipality of Colchester, said the quiet community has been shaken.
"This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable,” Taggart said. He said he didn’t know Wortman well, but spoke to him a few times when he phoned about municipal issues and described knowing Wortman’s "lovely big home” on
Portapique Beach Road.
Wortman is listed as a denturist - a person who makes dentures - in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, according to the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. Atlantic Denture Clinic, the practice Wortman owned, was closed for the past month because of the coronavirus pandemic.
RCMP tweeted several times that he was not an officer and warned he was considered "armed and dangerous."
"The initial search for the suspect led to multiple sites in the area, including structures that were on fire," Leather told the news conference.
Another police spokesperson said, without further details, that the gunman was killed after an officer intervened.
An independent agency, the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), which probes certain incidents involving the province's police, said that it "is investigating the shooting of a male in Enfield by RCMP officers."
SiRT said in a statement that a confrontation had occurred in Enfield, which is near the Halifax airport, "resulting in officers discharging their firearms. The suspect was found to be deceased at the scene."
Police said they had no indication of a motive. Lucki told CBC there was no indication "at this point" of a terrorist intent.
"What I would say is that it appears to be at least in part, very random in nature," said Leather.
"We are in the early stages of an incredibly detailed and complex investigation that has forever changed countless lives," he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that he "was saddened to learn about the senseless violence in Nova Scotia," and he hopes for a full recovery of the wounded.
The National Post quoted Tom Taggart, a councillor who represents Portapique in the Municipality of Colchester, as saying the community was devastated.
He described the community as a "subdivision in the woods where people have acre lots along the shore," and where Wortman owned three properties.
"It's absolutely unbelievable this could happen in our community. I never dreamt this would happen here," Taggart said.Agence France-Presse / Associated Press
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