PORTAPIQUE, Nova Scotia: A gunman in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia killed at least 16 people, including a policewoman, during a 12-hour rampage on Sunday (Apr 19), in the worst act of mass murder the country has seen in more than 30 years.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the gunman, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, who worked as a denturist, appeared at one stage to have been wearing part of a police uniform. He had also painstakingly disguised his car to look like a police cruiser.
Wortman shot people in several locations across the Atlantic province, police told a briefing, saying the death toll was more than 10.
Brenda Lucki, who heads the RCMP nationally, later told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp that Wortman killed at least 16 people.
Police added they had ended the threat posed by Wortman, who was dead, but would not confirm a report by the CTV network that the RCMP had shot him.
One of the victims was RCMP officer Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the service with two children.
Police said there was no apparent link between Wortman and at least some of his victims. They said they had no idea what his motivation might have been.
"Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia, and it will remain etched in the minds for many years to come," Lee Bergerman, commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, told reporters. The slain policewoman was an RCMP officer.
The massacre was the worst of its kind in Canada since a gunman killed 15 women in Montreal in December 1989. Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, which has tighter gun control laws than the United States.
Nova Scotia, like the rest of Canada, is under a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police discovered the killings late on Saturday after reports of shots at a house in the small coastal town of Portapique, about 130km north of the provincial capital, Halifax.
"When police arrived on the scene, members located several casualties inside and outside of the home," said Chris Leather, the Nova Scotia RCMP's criminal operations officer.
Several buildings in the town were ablaze and police exchanged gunfire at one point with Wortman. Probes subsequently disclosed he had also killed people in several other locations.
"We're not fully aware of what (the) total might be," said Leather.
At one juncture on Saturday evening, Wortman "appears to have been wearing - if not all - then a portion of a police uniform," Leather said. But he did not specify whether the suspect had been disguised as an officer when the killings occurred.
"The fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act," Leather said.
"WE HEARD GUNSHOTS"
According to the websites of the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia and the province's Better Business Bureau, Wortman operated a denture clinic in Dartmouth, close to Halifax.
In response to a question, Leather said police would look at a possible link to the coronavirus outbreak, which has forced the closure of non-essential businesses.
Portapique residents said the first sign of trouble occurred on Saturday night when police urged everyone to stay indoors. One man said he saw at least three separate fires.
A local resident said she had come across two burning police vehicles while out driving on Sunday.
"There was one officer we could see on scene and then all of a sudden, he went running toward one of the burning vehicles," Darcy Sack told the CBC.
"We heard gunshots," she added. Television footage from Portapique showed two burned-out vehicles on a road.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil decried "one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province's history."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would help Nova Scotians "as they heal from this tragedy."