Girlfriend hid in woods the night of N.S. mass shooting, was key witness who led police to gunman

Nova Scotia RCMP say a gunman who went on a shooting rampage last weekend assaulted someone who was known to him, who managed to escape and hide in the woods. 

The victim, who CBC News has learned was the gunman’s girlfriend, was a key witness who provided details about the suspect, Gabriel Wortman, to police, Supt. Darren Campbell said during a news conference on Friday. 

Later that night, a 911 call came in about shots having been fired. The caller said he was shot by someone in a passing vehicle.

RCMP then found several victims dead on the roadway and several homes on fire. 

Campbell said many of the victims of the mass shooting died trying to help others. 

“These people are true heroes,” Campbell said during a news conference from the Dartmouth detachment.

“To call this a tragedy would be an understatement.”

Police are providing a detailed account today of the mass killing carried out in the province by a gunman.

As of Wednesday, police had confirmed the deaths of 22 victims in communities spread across a wide swath of the province’s centre between Saturday night and Sunday morning before police were able to shoot and kill the gunman believed responsible for the rampage. Campbell said three other people were injured.

Victims included a 23-year-veteran of the RCMP, a family of three, health-care workers, an elementary school teacher and two Correctional Service Canada employees.

Even as police conduct investigations into 16 separate crime scenes, questions remain about the motives of the gunman, 51-year-old denturist Gabriel Wortman, and the reactions of RCMP to a tragedy that began with multiple calls to 911 late Saturday night from the small community of Portapique, 33 kilometres west of Truro.

Trail of devastation

The trail of devastation spanned almost 100 kilometres from the community where the shootings started around 10:30 p.m. Saturday to the gas station in Enfield, where police confronted and killed the man believed responsible for the rampage around noon the next day.

More than five buildings and vehicles were set alight along the way. One man described a harrowing escape from Wortman, who drove a replica RCMP vehicle and wore an police uniform, which has been confirmed as authentic.

RCMP have not revealed how he got the clothing.

‘All I could hear was explosions from the fires and gunshots,’ says Ellison. He ran, terrified, into the woods to save his own life. 9:15

Police have said that trying to answer the question of motive is part of the ongoing investigation into the killings. 

Wortman had no criminal record but had previously received a conditional discharge and nine months probation for assaulting a male victim in 2001. The court records associated with that case reveal little about the incident.

Details have also emerged in recent days about a dispute between Wortman and his uncle over finances related to a property in Portapique that was recently bought by one of the 22 people killed on the weekend.

A judge ultimately ruled in favour of the uncle, despite Wortman’s claims that he was still owed money.

CBC News has also learned that a woman with whom the gunman was in a long-term relationship was among his victims, but she survived.

Investigation continues

RCMP have said the investigation has involved interviewing, processing crime scenes, doing analytical work and searching some of the numerous properties Wortman owned in the region.

They have not revealed his relationship to the victims, although they have said that some appeared to have no connection whatsoever to the suspect.

Police have also found themselves answering questions about the RCMP efforts to warn the community, which included tweets warning people to stay inside and avoid the area as the search continued.

RCMP say the killer acted alone and did not possess any licences for firearms in Canada. But their inquiries continue, with a special focus on who might have helped Wortman obtain his replica vehicle and apparently authentic uniform. 

In the meantime, friends and families of the victims are trying to cope with the added pressure of arranging funerals and memorials in a COVID-19 era that demands physical separation at a time when relations would normally want to grieve together.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

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