MONTREAL — A gunman killed at least 16 people in a shooting rampage in a rural community in Nova Scotia, Canada’s national broadcaster said Sunday, in what was among the country’s worst mass killings in recent memory.
Police said the mass shooting, which began in the town of Portapique Saturday night, ended about 12 hours later at a gas station about 22 miles away in Enfield, north of Halifax, where the gunman died. Police would not elaborate on how he died, though witnesses told local news outlets that they heard gunfire leading up to his death.
A police officer was among those killed, officials said.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster, citing commissioner Brenda Lucki of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said the 16 figure did not include the gunman. He was previously identified by the authorities as Gabriel Wortman, 51.
A motive for the mass shooting was not immediately clear. Police said that it did not begin as a random act but that the killings became random as the spree progressed.
The commissioner said police did not consider the killings to be an act of terrorism.
Officials said Wortman, a denturist from Nova Scotia, had a relationship to some of the victims and was not known to police. They said one line of investigation would be whether the coronavirus pandemic had anything to do with the killing rampage.
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, the officer responsible for criminal investigations for the Nova Scotia Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said the episode began Saturday night when police were called to a home, where they discovered dead bodies inside and outside the residence.
He said a suspect was nowhere to be found. Over the next 12 hours, police pursued Wortman across the province.
Lucki said the crime scene stretched over a 50 kilometer (31 mile) area.
Leather said Wortman appeared to be dressed as a police officer and was driving a vehicle made to resemble an RCMP car. Authorities said that Wortman then switched vehicles and was seen driving a silver Chevrolet Tracker in the Milford area. Authorities emphasized that he was not an RCMP employee.
The chief said the bodies of victims were discovered in multiple locations and that several structures were set on fire.
Lee Bergerman, the assistant commissioner, appearing visibly shaken at a news conference Sunday, said the rampage would haunt Nova Scotia.
“Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come,” she said.
During the manhunt, authorities
warned residents that Wortman was armed and dangerous, and told them to stay inside. Frightened residents locked their doors and many hid in their basements — and stayed there overnight — as news of the shooting spread through the close-knit community.
Among the victims was Heidi Stevenson, a veteran RCMP officer and mother of two with 23 years experience on the force. Another police officer was injured.
Stephen McNeil, the premier of Nova Scotia, said it was “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history” at a time when the province was already being buffeted by the coronavirus.
“To the families of the victims and to those still feeling afraid, my heart goes out to you,” he said. “Know that all Nova Scotians are with you.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada thanked police for their work. “Our hearts go out to the people who have lost loved ones,” he said.
Authorities said the rampage was one of the worst in the province’s history.
In July 2018, a man wielding a gun in Toronto walked down a busy street and randomly shot two people and injured 13, before killing himself.
One year earlier, in late January, Canada was deeply shaken when a political science student entered a mosque in Quebec City during prayers, killing six people and wounding many more.
One of the worst mass shootings in recent Canadian history occurred on Dec. 6, 1989: Fourteen women were killed in a violent anti-feminist attack at the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal. Fourteen others were injured, and the gunman killed himself.
In the most recent violence, authorities said they responded to reports of a shooting about 10:30 p.m. Saturday in the area of Portapique Beach Road, Bay Shore Road and Five Houses Road in Portapique, a small rural community about 35 miles from Truro, Nova Scotia.
Canadians and residents of Nova Scotia, a province on the Atlantic coast known for its fishing industry, and Halifax, a port city, were shocked by the violence in a small, sleepy, rural area.
Tom Taggart, a council member in Colchester, which includes Portapique, lives 2 miles from the rural community.
“It’s really cottage country,” he said Sunday, adding that the community was home to about 50 to 60 residents and as many as 200 during the summer.
Like other residents, he said he had heard the updates from police Sunday about a gunman on the loose.
“It just escalated from there,” he said. “People live here because it is safe and secure, we think. This stuff is not supposed to happen here.”
He added: “These are real people that just went to bed last night thinking that everything is another day and now things are just — I can’t imagine. It’s tragic.”