Late in the evening of Saturday, April 18, 2020, a gunman embarked upon one of the deadliest killing sprees in modern Canadian history.
Thirteen hours later it was over, leaving scars on the rural community of Portapique, N.S., the province and the entire country.
Twenty-two people lost their lives that weekend. Many more people lost someone they loved.
In Episode 11 of 13 Hours: Collision Course, we trace the gunman’s movements during the last full hour of the killing spree. We also introduce two more victims, including an on-duty RCMP officer, murdered by the gunman.
By 10:21 a.m. on April 19, the Nova Scotia RCMP had been searching for Gabriel Wortman for nearly 12 hours.
During this time, Wortman murdered 19 people, lit homes and vehicles on fire and killed several animals.
Surveillance images collected by police after the killing spree reveal the gunman’s path as he moved across the province, terrorizing the communities of Wentworth, Debert and Shubenacadie, while evading the RCMP at every turn.
The RCMP used Twitter to warn the public about where the gunman was and asked everyone to remain indoors. Some of these tweets contained inaccurate information about the gunman’s location at the time they were sent out.
The gunman was captured on surveillance video at 10:17 a.m. and again at 10:19 a.m. driving down a main street in Truro.
Seven minutes later he stopped his vehicle in the parking lot of a Mi’kmag’ki Trading Post in the Millbrook First Nation.
Surveillance video from the parking lot shows the gunman getting out of his car — a mock RCMP cruiser —- and changing his uniform. He appears calm and not in a hurry. He’s less than 500 metres from an RCMP detachment.
Surveillance video appears to show Nova Scotia shooting suspect getting out of car to change clothes
The gunman continued south toward Brookfield, where he passed a gas station at 10:32 a.m.
Then, at 10:49 a.m., he met Const. Chad Morrison on the side of Highway 224. He pulled his vehicle side-by-side with Morrison’s and opened fire.
Morrison was shot several times, but survived the attack. Court documents include a summary of the incident as told by Morrison.
Although he knew the gunman was driving a look-alike police cruiser, Morrison believed the vehicle approaching him that morning belonged to RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson. That’s because he and Stevenson — both of whom were working alone that day — planned to meet in that exact location.
By the time Morrison realized it wasn’t Stevenson who pulled up beside him, it was too late.
Morrison said he “floored it” after he was shot and drove to a nearby Emergency Health Services (EHS) base, court documents show. Morrison told police that when he arrived at the base, he believed no one was there.
Morrison tried to communicate over the radio several times while driving to the base, but his transmissions failed. Eventually, he was able to call for help.
Realizing he was an easy target for the gunman if he remained in his parked vehicle, Morrison grabbed his semi-automatic police carbine and hid in the woods behind the base.
EHS said that its members at the Milford station were aware the gunman was disguised as a police officer and that Morrison was immediately brought inside the paramedic base for treatment once they verified his vehicle number.
Audio recordings of emergency responders that morning show Morrison went inside for help at about 11:10 a.m.
“Member is currently with us in the base,” a paramedic said over the radio.
The gunman continued travelling south on Highway 2 after shooting Morrison.
He met Stevenson while driving the wrong way down an exit ramp onto the highway, according to RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell.
“We do not believe that Const. Stevenson rammed the gunman’s vehicle,” Campbell said during a June 4 press conference.
“We can also tell you that the gunman’s vehicle sustained more damage than Const. Stevenson’s police vehicle did.”
Nova Scotia shooting: RCMP provide timeline of Const. Stevenson’s killing as well as fatal shooting of suspect at gas station
Court documents contain an eyewitness account of a shootout between Stevenson and the gunman.
A witness said he heard what sounded like loud popping noises coming from outside. He watched from his home as a bald man in a police uniform fired repeatedly at an RCMP officer, who he said was lying on the ground outside a police vehicle.
The witness said it seemed odd to him that an officer was shooting at another officer, court records show. He dialed 911.
Stevenson was killed in the exchange.
“She bravely engaged the gunman,” Campbell said.
It was at this point that Joey Webber, a bystander who went out to get heating fuel that morning, stopped his vehicle on the road to help.
The gunman approached Webber and forced him into the backseat of his mock police cruiser, where he shot and killed him.
The eyewitness account from that morning says the gunman took several items from the back of his vehicle and, a few moments later, both his car and Stevenson’s cruiser were on fire.
Video posted to YouTube taken shortly after the murders shows the two vehicles fully engulfed in flames. The witnesses describe the scene, saying they see several RCMP officers pulling the body of another officer away from one of the vehicles.
Lawyers representing the victims’ families have said Webber’s body remained inside the backseat of the gunman’s mock cruiser as it burned. It was left inside the vehicle for at least eight hours, they said.
“It just, it struck us really, really hard,” said Shanda MacLeod, Webber’s longtime partner and the mother of three of his children.
The families’ lawyers also said the RCMP transported Webber’s body on the back of a trailer while still inside the mock police cruiser. Webber’s family learned about this information from members of the community, not the RCMP.
MacLeod said Webber’s father, Tom Webber, confronted the RCMP about the way his son’s body was treated during a meeting with police.
“Tom kind of said to them, ‘So tell me why you towed my son in that cruiser, instead of having some dignity,’” she said. “They all kind of clammed up. Like, people were loosening their ties.”
The RCMP also sent out several tweets that morning warning the public that the gunman was driving south on Highway 102, after he killed Stevenson and Webber.
In tweet a sent at 11:06 a.m., the RCMP said the gunman was driving a silver Chevrolet SUV. Another tweet sent at 11:24 confirmed it was a “silver Chevrolet Tracker.”
Police later revealed the vehicle the gunman was driving belonged to Webber.
But Global News has obtained surveillance images taken at a gas station that morning prior to Webber’s death that show him standing beside a silver Ford Escape.
“They had the make and model all wrong on the vehicle from the get-go,” MacLeod said.
Even though MacLeod couldn’t reach Webber after he left that morning at around 10 a.m., she said the tweets from the RCMP gave her hope he was still alive because the vehicle description didn’t match what he was driving.
“My guts were still goin’ by that time because he was supposed to be home and stuff right?” she said.
David Giles, a red seal certified auto mechanic, independently identified the vehicle in the images as a 2007 Ford Escape — the same year, make and model Webber was driving — and said it was definitely not a Chevy.
Search warrant applications prepared by the police also say that a grey Ford Escape was located in the yard of the gunman’s next victim and that the keys for this vehicle were found in the gunman’s possession at the time of his death.
Global News asked the RCMP detailed questions about the allegation that Webber’s body was left in the mock police cruiser and transported on a trailer, and to confirm that Webber was driving a Ford Escape on the morning of the killing spree.
The RCMP did not respond to any of these questions.
The RCMP is a national police force with its headquarters located in Ottawa.
The force offers expertise in complicated investigations, including anti-money laundering, organized crime and terrorism.
It also provides contract policing in parts of the country not served by provincial or municipal police forces. The government of Nova Scotia has a contract with the RCMP that covers most of the province.
Colchester County, which includes the community of Portapique, is under RCMP jurisdiction.
But a year before the killing spree last April, the local government launched a review of the RCMP’s service.
Colchester councillor calls for police services review after mass shooting
Council asked the Truro Police Service to give a presentation about expanding its jurisdiction in April 2019. It’s also hired an independent consultant who has been looking into the value Colchester residents are getting from the RCMP.
“This has been an ongoing topic around the council table for a long time,” said Mike Gregory, a Colchester municipal councillor and retired RCMP officer.
Gregory said it’s difficult for him to accept, but maybe the RCMP shouldn’t be involved in local policing anymore.
“A lot of senior people, or people that are retired, are saying that the RCMP should get out of this municipal policing and just stick to federal policing,” he said. “Let the towns and the cities look after their own police force.”
Christian Leuprecht, a public safety and policing expert at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., says the RCMP has become increasingly incapable of fulfilling its mandate because resources are often stretched too thin.
He also believes the force needs to make a decision on what it wants to be — either a federal police force, similar to the FBI or DEA in the United States, or police-for-hire service that fills gaps where needed.
“You can make the argument that the RCMP, with all the mandates that it has, is an entity that is too large for its own good and that is almost impossible to manage and to govern,” he said.
“So what we have in the end is an organization that’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.”
Policing expert questions RCMP’s capacity to offer contract policing
Leuprecht also said the RCMP suffers from chronic staff shortages in rural areas of the country, where it provides contract policing, and that the structure of the force means officers frequently move from one area of the country to another.
He also said many officers aren’t grounded in the communities they serve in the same way that municipal police officers are.
“I would say that all policing is local. And the needs, priorities, interests, values vary significantly among communities,” he said.
Following attacks against Indigenous lobster fishers in October 2020, Nova Scotia’s former attorney general Mark Furry requested additional support and more officers from the RCMP to help stop the violence.
Federal public safety minister Bill Blair approved the request and said the number of additional officers would be determined by the province and local RCMP detachments.
Under the Provincial Police Service Agreement, the Nova Scotia justice department has the authority to order a formal review of policing services in the province.
Despite repeatedly calling the killing spree an “unprecedented” incident, the government isn’t using this authority to conduct a full-scale review of policing in the province.
Instead, staff from the justice department are completing a “preliminary analysis” of police service delivery across Nova Scotia, a government spokesperson said. The review will consider both RCMP contract policing and jurisdictions served by municipal police.
“Routine analysis of policing services helps to ensure we achieve our mandate — keeping communities and citizens safe and using resources effectively,” said justice department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn.
“We have informed police of the work underway. However, this is not a formal review as outlined under the Provincial Police Service Agreement. Any next steps will be determined once staff have completed their work.”
As for the RCMP’s ability to provide contract policing services in rural parts of the country, the union that represents roughly 20,000 RCMP officers, including about 1,000 in Nova Scotia, says the force is the right organization for the job.
Head of RCMP union says officers in N.S. capable of protecting citizens
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said the people of Nova Scotia and Canada are well-served by the RCMP.
And while he believes more must be done to ensure the officers have the equipment they need to protect themselves and keep everyone safe, such as body armour, Sauvé said efforts to end contract policing by the RCMP are misguided.
“You have almost 1,000 dedicated professional members who have experienced a massive tragedy, just like Nova Scotians and Canadians,” he said.
“They have shown up every day and they have kept doing their job in a professional, dedicated manner they’ve been trained to do.”
Joey Webber loved his daughters. Nothing was more important to him than family.
The 36-year-old was especially close with his younger sister, Laura, whom he always called “Sis.”
Joey worked with his dad as a logger, raising draft horses to help with the work. He loved being in the forest, Laura said.
He had the kind of patience and determination to break even the most stubborn horses, she said, qualities that also made him a great dad and uncle.
“He was real good with the kids, always taking them sledding or taking them out in the garden to the barn with the horses,” Laura said.
Shanda MacLeod was Joey’s partner for nearly 15 years and the mother of three of his four daughters.
“He was sweet. He was a good-looking boy, just a genuine country boy,” she said.
His daughters Emily, Rory and Shirley were all “daddy’s girls,” Shanda said.
Joey’s youngest daughter, Jolynn, will never know her dad. She was born on Christmas Day.
“It’s been tough, but I can hear Joey in my ear,” Shanda said. “I can hear him: ‘You just gotta do it for these girls.’”
Heidi Stevenson was determined to become an RCMP officer from a young age. She joined the force in 1996 and became a school liaison officer in Dartmouth, N.S., the next year.
That’s where she met a teacher named Dean Stevenson. They married and had two children, Connor and Ava, according to her obituary.
Heidi kept a tight circle of friends from her days as a student at Acadia University. That’s where she and TD “Eddie” Edison first met.
Eddie said Heidi was always driven and focused.
“She was just, head’s down, flat-out, all the time, working on her fitness and everything like that. She was focused on getting into the RCMP,” Eddie said.
Heidi’s 23 years with the force included a stint with the Musical Ride, a performance group that’s meant to promote the RCMP’s image, build positive relationships and help with recruitment.
She was also a drug recognition expert, a public information officer and a general duty officer.
In her spare time, she volunteered at her kids’ school and as a high school rugby coach.
Through the last 30 years, Eddie and Heidi stayed in touch and remained friends in spite of the distance as Eddie moved around the country.
RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson was a ‘symbol of everything good’
She said Heidi was always supportive and wise, qualities that made her a good friend and a good police officer.
“She was able to empathize and sympathize with people who lived completely different lives, completely different backgrounds, and who were on the other side of the law,” she said.
To subscribe and listen to this and other episodes of 13 Hours: Inside the Nova Scotia Massacre for free, click here.