Twenty-two people, including a 17-year-old, were killed in Canada’s worst mass shooting, police in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday after searching the charred remains of several houses set alight by the gunman during the weekend’s 12-hour shooting spree in the Atlantic province.
The gunman was also killed in a shootout with police, bringing the total death toll to 23, officials with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Tuesday as they provided a timeline of the tragic events.
Officers with the Nova Scotia RCMP detachment responded to a possible shooting incident at a home in Portapique in Colchester County, about 130 kilometres north of provincial capital of Halifax, at around 10:30 on Saturday, Apr. 18, officials said.
When police arrived, officers located several casualties inside and outside of a home, but they were unable to locate the suspect, RCMP officials said in a statement.
Officers secured the area and began to search for the suspect while evacuating the nearby residences, police said.
“The initial search for a suspect led to multiple sites in the immediate area, including structures and vehicles that were on fire,” the statement released by RCMP said.
Police identified the gunman as Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old denturist and owner of a clinic in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with no prior criminal record.
But the search for him was complicated by the fact the Wortman was wearing an RCMP uniform and driving an exact replica of an RCMP police cruiser, police said.
The search ended around noon on Apr. 19 when Wortman was cornered by heavily armed police officers at a service station in Enfield, Nova Scotia.
Wortman was shot by police and later died, RCMP said.
The province’s independent police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), which investigates instances of police use of force has taken over the investigation of Wortman’s death, RCMP said.
Police investigators are pouring over 16 crime scenes in the communities of Portapique, Wentworth, Debert, Shubenacadie/Milford and Enfield to gather evidence and learn more about what occurred at each location, RCMP officials said.
Police said they do not want to speculate about the motives for the rampage.
“Trying to answer this question is part of the investigation,” police said.
Some of the victims were known to Wortman and were targeted while others appear to have targeted randomly, police said.
“Our thoughts are with all of the victims’ families and we are particularly mindful of families who have not yet received confirmation that their loved ones were involved,” the statement said. “This is an unprecedented incident that has resulted in incredible loss and heartbreak for countless families and loved ones.”
Officials also thanked Nova Scotians for the outpouring of support they received following the death of Const. Heidi Stevenson who was killed while trying to apprehend Wortman. Her colleague Const. Chad Morrison was injured in the gunfight but is now recovering at home.
“Your support means so much and will help us heal,” the RCMP statement said. “While we have lost one of our own, and had one of our members injured, we would like to acknowledge the many other individuals who were affected by this tragedy. We are humbled by the stories of their lives and contributions to their communities.”