HALIFAX — A source close to the investigation says a killer’s murderous rampage across Nova Scotia began with him attacking and binding his girlfriend, and that she managed to escape and eventually give crucial details to police.
The woman was in a domestic dispute with Gabriel Wortman and was beaten and allegedly bound in some way Saturday night before she managed to get away from a residence in Portapique, N.S., the source said.
The source said the woman hid, but emerged early in the morning to provide police with the critical information that the 51-year-old denturist was driving a replica RCMP patrol vehicle and wearing a police uniform.
The details are the latest to emerge about the chaos that ensued as police in rural Nova Scotia sought the gunman as he went about the province killing people in five communities and setting homes on fire.
The search for the suspect stretched from late Saturday night to Sunday morning, when the death toll rose to 22 as the gunman, wearing an authentic RCMP uniform, evaded police in his replica RCMP cruiser.
RCMP could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports but have said they will release a detailed account of the April 18-19 incidents later this morning.
Police have also said he didn’t have a firearms licence for the guns he was using, though how Wortman obtained the weapons remains unclear.
Audio recordings of first responders communicating on two-way radios provide a glimpse of the frantic attempts to help the first victims found Saturday at 10:40 p.m. amid burning homes in the village of Portapique.
On one of the recordings, stored on the Broadcastify website, first responders dispatched to the scene along Highway 2 tell the dispatcher they can see something burning in the distance.
“I’m seeing huge flames and smoke from where we are,” says one, minutes before the dispatcher says police have discovered a gunshot victim on Portapique Beach Road.
Within the next 20 minutes, the extent of the carnage comes into sharp focus as police call for more ambulances — twice.
It’s unclear exactly how many people were killed along Portapique Beach Road, which includes many seasonal and permanent homes along the picturesque north shore of Cobequid Bay.
Police confirmed Wednesday that the suspect managed to escape from a perimeter they had set up around the rural area, but they didn’t realize he was gone until some time between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sunday when his girlfriend revealed details about the fake police car.
At 8:02 a.m., police issued an alert on Twitter saying they were looking for an active shooter in the Portapique area.
Over a 12-hour period, the 51-year-old Halifax man killed the 22 victims — some he knew, others he met randomly as he fled.
His victims include an RCMP officer, two nurses, two correctional officers, a family of three, a teacher and some of his neighbours in Portapique.
Heavily armed RCMP officers fatally shot him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 90 kilometres south of Portapique at around 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Police said the gunman acted alone during his violent rampage, but investigators said they are trying to determine whether anyone assisted him before the shooting began.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2020.