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N.S. RCMP say they were 'in process' of preparing alert when gunman was killed
TORONTO -- One hour and eleven minutes.
That’s how long Nova Scotia RCMP had between the time provincial officials offered to help send an emergency alert to every Nova Scotian’s phone about a rogue gunman on the loose and the time the attacker was killed.
During that time, officers at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth were deliberating over several details, including how the message should be worded.
“At 10:15 a.m., Nova Scotia Provincial Emergency Management officials contacted the RCMP to offer the use of the public emergency alerting system,” Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said at a news conference Wednesday.
“So in that hour and a bit, in that amount of consultation, is when the subject was killed at 11:26 a.m.”
An emergency alert was never sent.
The gap in time is one of several outstanding questions about how the hours-long massacre unfolded and how RCMP responded to the rampage that left 22 people dead.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Wednesday that the Emergency Management Office (EMO) reached out to the RCMP “a number of times” about issuing an emergency alert Sunday morning.
“That’s the protocol in place when it comes to EMO … the lead agency is the one that has to put the message together. We would not go from what’s happening by Twitter — we would need the lead agency to actually craft the message so that we could put that out, and no message was received even though EMO had reached out a number of times throughout the morning to the RCMP.”
New details are also emerging about the timeline of the RCMP’s tweets. Sometime between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sunday, police officers learned from a witness that the gunman, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was in possession of an authentic police uniform and lookalike RCMP cruiser.
It wasn’t until at least two hours and twenty minutes later, at 10:21 a.m., that police issued a tweet warning the public that the suspect may be disguised as a police officer.
“The information about the vehicle, the clothing, took some time to learn from the one witness and once that information was compiled, it was immediately tweeted by our communications section,” Leather said Wednesday.
The RCMP have been widely criticized for using social media rather than sending an emergency alert to Nova Scotians phones. Nick Beaton said his wife, Kristin, left the house to go about her day of essential work on Sunday morning because they assumed the gunman had been apprehended.
Kristin’s body was later found on the side of the road.
"We thought he was taken care of. If I had known he was on the loose I would have not let my wife leave the house that day," Nick Beaton told CTV News on Tuesday. "RCMP were tweeting, I don't know, I don't use Twitter and I don't know anyone that does use Twitter.”
Nova Scotia RCMP have yet to release a complete timeline of the 13.5-hour rampage. It remains unclear what time the victims were killed.
Leather said a timeline could be released sometime in the next 24 hours.
“We are still piecing together the movement of this subject. We believe we have identified the locations and sites that he attended and when he did, but there are certainly gaps that need to be investigated,” he said.
He also defended the force’s use of Twitter, saying it is the “usual way” police provide updates to the public and that Twitter allowed the message to reach local and national media covering the unfolding situation.
GUNMAN ACTED ALONE
RCMP have now confirmed that the gunman acted alone, but investigators are still assessing whether anyone helped him leading up to the attack. For instance, it’s unclear how he managed to possess a genuine RCMP uniform.
Tracking the source of the uniform is “a key element” of the investigation, Leather said.
Police have not confirmed what types of weapons were used. Leather said RCMP “have a fairly good idea,” but those details are under the purview of the province’s Serious Incident Response Team.
However, he confirmed that the gunman did not have a firearms acquisition certificate.
CTV News has learned that the attacker was convicted of assault in 2002. According to court documents, he was ordered to undergo counselling for anger management and banned from possessing firearms, explosives and any prohibited weapon for nine months. He was also ordered to pay a fine and received a conditional discharge.
Piecing together a clear picture of what happened could take months. Mark Mendelson, a former Toronto Police homicide detective, said Wednesday that the investigation is complicated in part because of the four different types of crime scenes involved: burned-out vehicles, homes that were set on fire, homes where there were shootings but no fires, and the attacker's own residence and office.
At scenes where there were fires, he said on CTV's Your Morning, investigators will try to determine how the fires started and whether the victims there were killed by the fires or before they were set. Houses will be more complicated, because of fears of collapsing floors or other signs of structural instability. Police have said that fires involving structures or vehicles account for "more than five" of the 16 crime scenes.
Investigators will also be trying to determine how many guns were used in the rampage and how they were acquired, as well as anything that might point them toward a motive. Police will also have to determine the exact route the attacker used to travel from Portapique, N.S. to Enfield, N.S. and retrace it.
"They're looking for any weapons that might have been discarded off the sides of the road, but also they're going to be looking at the homes," Mendelson said.
Checking homes along the route will be particularly important, Mendelson said, because the combination of the remote setting and the COVID-19 pandemic means police will have to rule out the existence of further victims and further crime scenes that have not yet been discovered.
"Doors are going to have to be knocked on," he said.
Police have said that some of the 22 people killed knew the attacker, while others were strangers to him. All of his victims were adults except for 17-year-old Emily Tuck, who was one of three family members killed in a home near the attacker's. The full list of victims includes a cross-section of life in Nova Scotia, including a nurse, a teacher, an RCMP officer and a retired firefighter.