HALIFAX — As police closed in on a killer who had already murdered more than a dozen people in a rural corner of Nova Scotia, the suspect narrowly escaped by driving a replica police car through a field under cover of darkness, the RCMP revealed Tuesday.
RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said the first 911 call on April 18 came from the village of Portapique just after 10 p.m. and officers arrived at the scene on Portapique Beach Road at 10:26 p.m.
The road provides the only access to the main highway, which is why police believed they had the assailant cornered.
However, Campbell confirmed Tuesday that police have since learned a resident spotted the gunman fleeing the area only nine minutes later.
"There was a witness that saw a vehicle that was travelling through a field, which was not very common," Campbell told a news conference at RCMP headquarters in Halifax.
Though police had provided a detailed timeline last Friday, the timing of the 911 call, the quick escape and several other key details of what happened later that night were not disclosed.
Gabriel Wortman, who killed 22 people over a span of about 13 hours, drove east from Portapique to Debert, N.S., where he arrived at 11:12 p.m. and spent the night in an industrial park, Campbell said.
As for the replica police car, which the gunman used to escape and later surprise victims, it was obtained in the fall of 2019, and was one of four former police vehicles he bought at auctions in the last few years.
Campbell said the 51-year-old Halifax-based denturist outfitted the vehicle with an emergency light bar and decals that made the late-model Ford Taurus look almost identical to a genuine RCMP vehicle.
"The gunman was a collector of many things, including police memorabilia," Campbell told reporters. "He was in possession of multiple pieces of police uniforms from a variety of agencies .... How he obtained the decals and how they were produced is an investigative detail that I can't get into."
Campbell said many witnesses have come forward to confirm the killer had a keen interest in the RCMP.
Used RCMP uniforms can be purchased from surplus stores, auctions and through online vendors, but Campbell said it was unclear how the suspect obtained the uniform in question.
"He didn't hide that fact — that he had cars or memorabilia — from people that knew him," he said. However, the senior Mountie said police were not aware of these collections.
The gunman was wearing an authentic RCMP shirt and yellow-striped pants during the initial stage of his 90-kilometre rampage, said Campbell, the officer in charge of support services for Nova Scotia.
He confirmed that police had interviewed retired RCMP officers who were related to Wortman, but Campbell said there was no indication they offered any help to the shooter.
As for the weapons used, police had earlier confirmed the suspect had pistols and long-barrelled weapons. But Campbell went further on Tuesday, saying the shooter had several semi-automatic handguns and two semi-automatic rifles.
Some of the weapons came from the United States, but he didn't specify which ones.
Investigators have yet to speculate about a motive, though they have confirmed the killings started after the suspect assaulted his common-law partner in Portapique, which is home to about 100 people.
The woman survived by fleeing her home and hiding in the nearby woods, but 13 others died in the neighbourhood.
On Friday, Campbell said the assault may have been a "catalyst" to the murders that followed. But on Tuesday, he stressed that no one should be left with the impression that the woman "had anything to do with the gunman continuing on with his rampage."
"The word catalyst was used to express that that was the first victim in a series of very horrific events," Campbell said.
"I want to be very clear that violence against women is intolerable. It's real. It exists. I don't want to be misunderstood, that the victim had any blame in relation to what occurred on those awful days."
Campbell said he was not aware of any evidence to suggest the gunman was targeting women.
"It appeared as if he was just targeting individuals that either he knew or individuals (at random) for whatever reason."
Police have identified 435 witness and have already interviewed half of them. As well, investigators have processed 20 legal applications, many of them for search warrants.
The Mounties said the remains of eight victims have been recovered from burned structures and vehicles, though the causes of death have yet to be determined.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2020.
Michael MacDonald and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press