The man responsible for April’s mass shootings in Nova Scotia took a leisurely drive around a community close to his rural cottage, stopped to chat with a fellow denturist and oversaw work being done on his property in the hours before the massacre began.
The details of a seemingly mundane day leading up to the shootings are contained in sections of court records that a provincial court judge ordered released Monday following a court hearing.
The documents also say that on the evening of April 18, the gunman’s spouse was present inside as he doused the floor of the cottage they shared with gasoline — before grabbing guns and igniting the log building he’d prized. The woman, whose name is redacted from the records, later told police he said, “I’m done, I’m done. It’s too late [redacted], I’m done.”
On April 18 and 19, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 neighbours, acquaintances and strangers in several communities in rural Nova Scotia. He torched his own cottage and garage, and three other homes over a 13-hour period before being shot dead by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. after a lengthy search.
A judge on Monday approved the release of six more of the approximately 23 judicial authorizations RCMP have obtained since the massacre — to search gunman’s properties in Portapique and Dartmouth, and for his financial records. Redacted copies of seven were previously released.
Though the new documents are heavily redacted, each is about 90 pages long and includes information about how the gunman procured decommissioned RCMP cruisers and police equipment and about his financial transactions months prior to the attacks. All information related to the type of firearms used remains blacked out.
Expected to head to Dartmouth
It’s unclear why the gunman “snapped,” as his spouse described it to police. The documents also offer little information about why Wortman targeted his victims, some of whom he knew. His partner told police she did not know their neighbours well.
She also told police that, that night, she believed he was going to take her to Dartmouth, where they had another home and a clinic, to kill people or burn buildings, according to the documents. The specifics are blacked out. The woman has never spoken publicly about what she saw on April 18. Her lawyer has declined requests for comment from CBC News.
At some point after Wortman loaded guns and ammunition into his mock cruiser, the woman escaped. She told investigators she initially hid in a truck before spending hours in a wooded area in Portapique. Though she heard someone announcing they were police on a loudspeaker, she said she feared it was her partner. Around dawn she went to the home of a neighbour who called 911.
Large cash withdrawal
RCMP have previously said Wortman liquidated his assets and stockpiled gas and food due to COVID-19 fears. A warrant that the court released in May revealed people told the investigators the gunman was paranoid and had a history of abuse.
According to the new documents, his spouse also told police in the weeks prior to the attacks he was “consumed” by the pandemic, talking about it constantly and saying he “knew he was going to die.”
She also said he feared that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would find a way to control money and that prompted him to withdraw nearly half a million dollars from his own accounts. The RCMP interviewed officials from CIBC and Brinks about a March 30 withdrawal in Dartmouth.
Officials from the bank told police that Wortman asked to liquidate investments and then transferred the money to his business accounts. On March 25 at a branch in Dartmouth, he asked the bank’s director that his $475,000 be paid out in $100 bills, according to the court documents.
The records state the bank worked with Brinks to set up a pick-up on March 30.
RCMP have not said how much cash police have recovered. The search warrant documents show that on April 22, investigators found cash folded in tinfoil packets inside an ammunition box discovered at the Portapique property.
Suspicious transactions flagged
Canada’s money-laundering watchdog, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (Fintrac), reported on Wortman’s personal and professional financial activities after the massacre, according to the newly released documents.
The records say Wortman’s PayPal account was used to buy vehicle accessories labelled as being for police use on eBay. The court documents describe the purchases as “for items utilized in the facilitation of domestic terrorist activities.”
According to the court documents, the Fintrac review found that PayPal flagged suspicious transactions between March 22 and Dec. 5, 2019 — though it’s not clear from the records if that’s when they were reported as suspicious or if that’s when they occurred.
Those purchases included accessories for police vehicles such as:
- A centre console for a 2013 Ford Taurus.
- A ram for the front bumper of a Taurus sedan.
- Siren lights.
- A dashcam.
- Thin blue line vinyl decal.
- A gun rack.
Other transactions listed as suspicious include $15,045 worth of items — including decommissioned cars — purchased with credit cards from GCSurplus in Ottawa. The site is run by Public Services and Procurement Canada.
There’s also reference to cash deposits payable to Wortman from Northumberland Investments, one of his companies. The Fintrac review found three questionable transactions: two cash deposits in 2010 totalling $200,000 and another for $246,000. The transactions happened in Fredericton and Dartmouth, but the documents don’t elaborate on the circumstances.
What is clear is that over the years, people around the gunman knew he had a penchant for acquiring car parts and collecting motorcycles. Some also knew he had guns and one car that he’d outfitted to resemble an actual cruiser.
The documents reference interviews with two people who responded to a Kijiji ad about an off-road vehicle in the weeks prior to April’s attacks. In both cases, Wortman showed off his replica cruiser inside the large garage he had in Portapique.
Using one of his companies, he purchased the 2017 Ford Taurus used in the attacks on July 3, 2019, from the RCMP, according to the search warrant records.
A friend of Aaron Tuck, who was one of Wortman’s victims, told police that in August 2019, Tuck told him that Wortman’s mock cruiser was indistinguishable from an actual police vehicle and that he kept a holster for a gun in the back of it. Tuck was killed alongside his wife, Jolene Oliver, and his daughter, Emily, at their home in Portapique.
Peter Griffon, a neighbour who was on parole and who printed the decals for the cruiser, initially lied to police about his involvement but later showed investigators images of the vehicle he kept on his phone. He did odd jobs for Wortman and on April 18 had been splitting wood for him. He last saw him around noon that day, before Wortman headed out for a drive.
Wortman also stopped and talked with a fellow denturist, who is not identified, about work and COVID-19.
The gunman’s spouse said Wortman was constantly scouring sites for police gear which he bought in both Canada and the U.S.
Records the RCMP obtained from Canada Border Services Agency showed that Wortman crossed the U.S.-Canada border in Woodstock, N.B., 15 times over a two-year period, with his last return to Canada on March 6. He did not have permits to import supplies for his denturist business, but the CBSA said he was personally importing car parts.
Wortman appears to have had a long history of threats and violence. A former neighbour has spoken out about being harassed by Wortman after reporting to RCMP that Wortman abused his spouse. The spouse and another relative relayed to police an account of Wortman’s vicious attack on his father during a trip to the Caribbean. In 2011, someone reported to Truro police that the denturist threatened to “kill a cop.”
The documents released Monday are the second batch of search warrant documents the court has agreed to release. CBC applied in April for access to the records and seven other media outlets joined the application.
David Coles, the lawyer representing the media organizations, has filed a request for a judicial review of decisions Judge Laurel Halfpenny MacQuarrie had made in the case. Halfpenny MacQuarrie will consider that request Oct. 2 in Halifax provincial court.
If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.