Gunman in N.S. mass shooting likely used gasoline to torch homes and vehicles, say RCMP


Investigators have identified where the gunman responsible for the mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia that killed 22 people obtained decals for his replica cruiser, and now suspect he used gasoline while setting homes and vehicles on fire.

RCMP sent out an update Monday on their investigation into the 13-hour rampage that started in Portapique, N.S., on April 18. The last time the force provided an update was a news conference on April 28.

RCMP have not disclosed the name or location of the supplier of the decals featuring the police force’s distinctive stripes and logos. Someone made the graphics for the vehicle without the business owner’s permission and both people are now working with police, according to the news release. Police did not say if the person who made the decals worked at the business.

The Mounties have previously said the vehicle outfitted to look exactly like an RCMP cruiser gave the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, an advantage as he travelled through Nova Scotia communities the morning of April 19. He separately pulled over two women, Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien, with his fake cruiser and shot them to death, police said.

Based on RCMP reports, audio recordings and interviews, this is what we know about what happened during a gunman’s rampage that left 22 victims dead. 7:21

So far, police have spoken to about 500 people, with more interviews planned. They are asking anyone who had professional or personal conflicts with Wortman to contact them.

Some of the witnesses have shared information that the gunman had a “significant supply of gasoline” at his Portapique property, leading investigators to suspect he used it as an accelerant.

Several homes in Portapique and Wentworth, a community about 45 kilometres to the north where a number of victims were killed, were destroyed by fire. The replica cruiser and the vehicle driven by RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was shot to death by the gunman, were also torched.

Source of firearms still under investigation

Police now say they determined the shooter left Portapique with two semi-automatic rifles and two semi-automatic handguns. Previously, they said they traced one of the guns to Canada and were working with the Canada Border Services Agency because they believed others were obtained in the United States.

The Mounties have not identified the specific calibre used, nor have they released any information about whether the gunman had modified the weapons.

“Determining where and how the gunman obtained the firearms is a central part of the investigation, and we use this detailed information to verify the credibility of some of the information we receive,” the release said.

Another part of the RCMP’s investigation is determining whether Stevenson shot at Wortman when she encountered him near Shubenacadie, N.S. RCMP initially asked Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team to investigate, but the police watchdog referred the matter back to them.

RCMP investigators search for evidence on April 23 at the location where Const. Heidi Stevenson was killed along the highway in Shubenacadie, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

SIRT is still investigating why two RCMP officers fired shots at the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade hall and the confrontation with the gunman where he was shot dead at the Irving Big Stop in Enfield, N.S.

Monday’s news release also confirmed that the RCMP behavioural analysis unit is conducting a psychological autopsy of the gunman — an in-depth study that analyzes his personality, his past behaviour and his interactions with others — in hopes of better understanding his motivations.

By interviewing friends, family and acquaintances, a psychological autopsy can provide insight into someone’s mental and emotional state, as well as any patterns of abuse, said Jim Van Allen, who used the investigative technique in his past role managing the Ontario Provincial Police’s criminal profiling unit. He trained and worked closely with RCMP.

RCMP in Nova Scotia released this photo of a mock RCMP vehicle that the gunman was believed to be driving. The RCMP have said it is identical in every way to their cruisers, with the exception of the numbers police circled in this photo. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

Many violent crimes end up having “multiple motivations and overlapping motivations,” he said, and abusive relationships are a common warning sign.  

“Sometimes, you might see this coming, but nobody did anything to prevent it. Or, you get to look at the significance of the sequence of events and that might help you determine what was most causative in leading up to the person’s decisions to carry out the behaviour that they did,” Van Allen said. 

“Everybody deserves an explanation, the best possible explanation the police can give. And I believe the psychological autopsy will help provide some of those answers to the people that want to know and deserve to know.” 

The faces of the 22 people killed by a gunman in Nova Scotia three weeks ago. (CBC)

The RCMP’s major crimes unit is leading the investigation with help from across the country, including crime analysts, people specializing in digital forensic and laboratory services, as well as forensic pathologists.

As part of that effort, forensic identification officers worked with a team from Dalhousie University and searched for anything buried at the gunman’s Portapique property. The police release said they didn’t find anything relevant.

They said they’ve completed searches of 17 scenes.

The force is continuing to look into a possible motive and whether anyone helped the gunman in the lead-up to the fires and mass shootings. The release also said police are still working on tracing his movements on April 18 and 19.

They’ve dubbed the investigation H-Strong, a reference to “H” Division, which encompasses the RCMP in Nova Scotia.

It’s unclear if the project name also refers to “Nova Scotia Strong,” the phrase that people from around the world have been using while sharing condolences and tributes in the wake of the mass shooting.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

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