A gunman in Canada has killed at least 16 people after a 12-hour shooting rampage across Nova Scotia in the worst act of mass murder the country has seen in modern times.
Several bodies were found inside and outside one home in the small, rural town of Portapique, police said, and several homes were set on fire. Bodies were found at other locations and one police officer was also among the dead.
Officials said the gunman, named as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, had also died after shooting people in several locations across the province. They said they were still trying to establish a final death toll.
“Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and it will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come,” commanding officer Lee Bergman of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Sunday evening.
Authorities said Wortman was driving what appeared to be a police car and was wearing a uniform but later reported he was at the wheel of a Chevrolet sports utility vehicle that had been modified to resemble a white RCMP vehicle – “one that he has basically made himself”, said Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation. Police have said the suspect was not an employee or officer with the RCMP.
“In excess of 10 people have been killed,” RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said, before later revising the total to “at least 13”. “We believe it to be one person who is responsible for all the killings and that he alone moved across the northern part of the province and committed what appears to be several homicides.”
Sauvé said a police officer was among those killed in a shooting and another was injured. The dead officer has been identified as Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23-year-old veteran of the force.
“Heidi answered the call of duty and lost her life while protecting those she served,” Bergerman said on Sunday evening. “Two children have lost their mother. And a husband has lost his wife. Parents have lost their daughter and countless others lost an incredible friend and colleague.”
The massacre looked to be the worst of its kind since a gunman killed 15 women in Montreal in December 1989. A man driving a van deliberately ran over and killed 10 people in Toronto in April 2018 and a man shot dead six people at an Islamic cultural center in Quebec City in 2017.
Police have not provided a motive for the attack, which reportedly began in the small Atlantic coastal town of Portapique, about 130km north (80 miles) of Halifax, the provincial capital. Online records show Wortman ran a denture clinic in the city of Dartmouth, across the water from Halifax.
Portapique residents said the the first they heard about the incident was late on Saturday night when police urged everyone to stay indoors.
Officers arrived at a house after receiving multiple emergency calls and found “several casualties” inside and outside the residence.
One local resident said she had come across two burning police vehicles while out driving on Sunday morning. One man said he saw at least three separate fires.
“There was one officer we could see on scene and then all of a sudden, he went running toward one of the burning vehicles,” Darcy Sack told the CBC.
“We heard gunshots,” she said, adding that one police officer looked to have been injured.
Police initially said Wortman was driving what appeared to be a police car and was wearing a uniform but later reported he was at the wheel of a Chevrolet sports utility vehicle. The RCMP released a photograph of Wortman on Sunday morning, warning he was “armed” and “dangerous”.
“I never imagined when I went to bed last night that I would wake up to the horrific news that an active shooter was on the loose in Nova Scotia,” Stephen McNeil, the Nova Scotia premier, said on Sunday.
“This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history,” he added. He said it was an additional heavy burden amid efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, which has far tighter gun control laws than the United States.
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