In the worst act of mass murder in Canada’s history, a man disguised as a police officer has gone on a rampage in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, killing 16 people in their homes and setting fires.
During a 12-hour killing spree on Sunday local time, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police identified the shooter as Gabriel Wortman, 51, who had also disguised his car to look like a police cruiser.
He shot and killed 16 people including a policewoman in several locations across the province. Commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, Lee Bergerman, said it was a devastating day for the region.
“It will remain etched in the minds for many years to come,” he said.
Constable Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23-year veteran of the force was killed. Another officer was also injured.
Police first announced that they had arrested Wortman at a service station in Enfield, outside Halifax, but later said he had died. It was not clear how, and they did not explain further.
Several bodies were found inside and outside one home in the small, rural town of Portapique, about 100 kilometres north of Halifax.
More bodies were found at other locations.
Authorities believe Wortman may have targeted his first victims but then began attacking randomly.
Overnight, police began advising residents of the town to lock their doors and stay in their basements. Several homes in the area were set on fire as well.
The massacre looked to be the worst of its kind since a gunman killed 15 women in Montreal in December 1989. A man driving a van deliberately ran over and killed 10 people in Toronto in April 2018.
Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, which has tighter gun control laws than the United States.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said it was “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deplored what he called “a terrible situation.”
“As a country, in moments like these, we come together to support one another. Together we will mourn with the families of the victims, and help them get through this difficult time,” he said.
RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said many of the victims did not know Wortman.
Superintendent Leather said they would investigate whether the attack had anything to do with the coronavirus pandemic but no link has been found thus far.
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.
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 Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“We heard gunshots.”