A couple pays their respects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on April 22, 2020. The Mountie who led the first response to the Nova Scotia mass shooting testified Monday his plans to block the killer's escape route were thrown off by a subordinate's "misunderstanding," and a crush of competing duties. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

N.S. mass killer slipped by Truro police in nine-minute journey on Day 2 of rampage

TRURO, N.S. — A mass killer in a replica police vehicle was able to drive undetected through the largest Nova Scotia town in the vicinity of his murders, slipping by local constables who had received descriptions of the fake car over an hour earlier.

The murderer eluded the RCMP after gunning down two women on a road near Debert, N.S., and entered Truro on the morning of April 19, 2020 — the second day of a rampage that took the lives of 22 people over 13 hours.

According to a summary provided by a public inquiry on Monday, the gunman entered the town at about 10:11 a.m. and was gone nine minutes later, passing within blocks of two local officers.

The document notes that Cpl. Edwin Cormier of the Truro Police Service was on duty at that point, overseeing constables Dan Taylor, Jason Reeves and Thomas Whidden.

It also says RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers had contacted Cormier to inform him the killer was in “a fully marked, newer model … looks like a Ford,” replica RCMP vehicle. By then, the call number on the side of the car had also been circulated.

Briers suggested the Truro police don their hard body armour in case they encountered the killer, though he made it clear he wasn’t sure where the car was.

At 8:51 a.m., Cormier radioed all the constables on his shift and updated them on the information he’d received. One of the officers said in an interview with the inquiry last month he was “unnerved” at the prospect of encountering the replica vehicle.

“I had his face (from a photo), but at the time I’m like, ‘That’s not good enough,’” Taylor said. “I felt like whoever it was could probably get the drop on me unless I had my gun pointed at every cruiser that came in the parking lot.”

Video gathered from local businesses after April 19, knitted together Gabriel Wortman’s route through Truro. As the killer drove along Main Street past a car dealership, GPS data indicates Cormier was driving towards the police station on Prince Street in Truro, just 1.6 kilometres away from an approaching Wortman.

Taylor was meanwhile stationed outside the Colchester East Hants Community Health Centre about 5.6 kilometres away, while Reeves was patrolling not far from the hospital. The hospital had requested an officer earlier because it was expecting a victim from Portapique, the village where the shooting rampage began.

The video cameras at the Dairy Queen in the centre of the town captured the killer’s replica car at the intersection with Prince Street, just 500 metres from the police station.

At around 10:17 a.m., the gunman passed two pedestrians walking on the sidewalk near a local bakery and café.

By the time Truro police dispatcher Brittanee Steeves got a call at 10:22 a.m. advising of multiple additional 911 calls, including one regarding the killings in Debert, the killer had passed the RCMP detachment in Millbrook on Truro’s outskirts.

Fifteen minutes later, with Wortman long gone, Truro police received a telephone call from an RCMP dispatcher passing along a request they lock down their town.

However, the audio transcripts indicate confusion from Truro police over what was meant by locking down the town. RCMP dispatch supervisor Kristen Baglee appears to struggle as she answers questions during a conversation with Cormier.

“Uh, when you say shut down, what do you mean?” Cormier asks.

“Well I don’t know if you need, uh, maybe you can do some, some roadblocks on the main,” Baglee replies.

Truro Police Insp. Darrin Smith also spoke with Baglee, who confirmed that the replica vehicle seen in a photo that had been forwarded earlier was loaded with weapons.

She then mentioned, as she had to Cormier, that he also could be driving a white Ford pickup truck that had been seen leaving the Glenholme, N.S., area. “That’s one of the vehicles that hasn’t been located that’s associated to him,” Baglee told Smith. Smith radioed the information to all Truro police members.

In an interview with the inquiry Smith expressed his bewilderment with the RCMPs information and request to lock down. He said he thought at the time that the response wasn’t co-ordinated and that the request was made out of “panic” and the need to “just do something.”

“It was obvious to me that the information that was coming in was … it was all over the board, all over the map so to speak,” Smith said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2022.

Michael Tutton and Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press