The morning after a gunman killed 13 people in northern Nova Scotia, the RCMP was unaware he had fired again until hectic 911 calls came in shortly after 9:30 am.
By this time, four more people had been shot and the killer, who was driving a replica RCMP cruiser, was still at large.
Two documents released Wednesday by the disaster investigation make it clear that when day came on April 19, 2020, most Nova Scotians were unaware of the chaos that had begun the night before.
“It’s the period when the perpetrator reactivated his frenzy after a brief overnight hiatus,” attorney Roger Burrill told the federal-provincial investigation.
According to the new documents, the killer parked in Debert, NS, the night of April 18, 2020, then left before dawn and drove approximately 25 miles to a house in West Wentworth. and Alanna Jenkins on Hunter Road at 6:35 AM
Neighbors reported hearing gunshots at various times that morning, but it remains unclear exactly what happened on the remote site between 6:35 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Civil and police investigators believe McLeod and Jenkins were fatally shot in their home before it was set on fire.
The investigation learned that the couple, who both worked in correctional facilities in northern Nova Scotia, were known to the killer, whom police had identified the night before as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman. The document does not speculate on a motive, but the RCMP has said the killer was likely a “gatherer of injustice” bent on settling old grudges.
Investigators believe neighbor Tom Bagley, a retired firefighter, was taking a morning walk just after 8:50 a.m. when he noticed the burning house and tried to provide help. He was shot just outside the house before the killer left around 9:20 a.m.
In a subsequent interview with his wife, Patsy, investigators found that Bagley had checked Facebook and the news before he left for his walk, but there was no indication that he or his wife had heard of the previous night’s murders in rural areas. Portapique, NS, about a 40 minute drive.
The RCMP has been heavily criticized for the way they communicated with the public during their April 2020 investigation. In particular, questions have been raised as to why the Mounties failed to use the Alert Ready system to warn Nova Scotians of an active gunman.
The system can be used to send urgent messages on TV, radio and wireless devices. Some critics, including relatives of some of the victims, have said the Mounties’ use of Twitter to warn the public was pointless, as people in rural areas rarely use that form of social media.
There has also been speculation that the RCMP did not step up their warnings on the night of April 18 because they believed the threat was over when the shooting ended in Portapique. The investigation, which began on Feb. 22, has learned that some Mounties believed the gunman committed suicide in one of the community’s forested areas on the first night.
It wasn’t until after 7:30 the next morning that police heard from Wortman’s spouse that he had eluded arrest and was driving a vehicle modified to look exactly like a marked RCMP patrol car.
At 8:02 a.m., the Mounties issued a brief warning on Twitter, saying they were looking for an active gunman in the Portapique area for the first time. It wasn’t until 10:17 a.m. that they warned on Twitter that the killer was driving a police car.
A Hunter Road resident, April Dares, later told police she saw a “police cruiser” leaving the area around 9:15 am. When she turned to Facebook to inquire about the gunfire she’d heard earlier that day, she learned what was going on in Portapique. She called 911 at 9:32 a.m. to report a possible link between the two incidents.
Minutes later, another neighbor, Carlyle Brown, called 911 to report the growing roadside house fire and the sound of gunshots. Other neighbors also called.
Adding to the chaos was another 911 call – picked up at 9:35 am – from a woman at her Wentworth home, who said she had just heard a gunshot and then saw a police car pull away from a body on the side of the Highway. 4 lag. – about 15 kilometers south of Hunter Road.
During the phone call, her husband reported that the victim was dead.
It was then that the RCMP realized where the killer was. At 9:42 a.m., officers in the area were alerted to seeing the suspect’s car and the death of Campbell, who had been out for a morning walk when Wortman passed her on the highway, made a U-turn, and drove back to shoot her.
“The perpetrator’s whereabouts were unknown prior to … the radio broadcasts of the Wentworth murder,” the document says. Officers from across the region then joined the manhunt.
As for Campbell, her husband later told police that the couple had their computers, radio, TV and cell phones turned on that morning before Campbell left for her daily walk, but had heard nothing about the events in Portapique.
Just after 11 a.m., Tom Bagley’s burned body was found by neighbors next to McLeod-Jenkins’ burned-down home in West Wentworth. The couple’s remains were identified weeks later.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors and give you a succinct summary of the day’s main headlines. Sign up today†