5 metres away, no time to get cover: RCMP officers who killed Portapique gunman describe final moment

5 metres away, no time to get cover: RCMP officers who killed Portapique gunman describe final moment

by Sue Jones
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Two Nova Scotia RCMP officers who spotted the gunman responsible for killing 22 people in April 2020 describe how they stumbled upon him at a gas station, quickly identified him, and ended his life.

Rcmp At Big Stop In Enfield

The gunman was shot and killed by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., around 11:25 a.m. on April 19, 2020. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

After a frantic morning of following the gunman as he left destruction in his path, killing 22 people in four Nova Scotia communities, two RCMP officers describe how they manoeuvred to get ahead of the suspect and coincidentally ended up beside him at a quiet gas station.

In newly released documents from the Mass Casualty Commission, Emergency Response Team (ERT) member Const. Ben MacLeod and RCMP dog handler Const. Craig Hubley provide details of how they both shot Gabriel Wortman multiple times without hesitation, ending his life.

The pair had stopped for gas at the Irving Big Stop in Enfield, when Hubley noticed a man sitting in a gray Mazda 3. Hubley describes having a “profile view of him as he looked straight ahead.” 

He noticed a small trickle of blood running down the man’s forehead, which struck him as odd.

“The look on his face was one of someone who had just been in a fight. He was breathing heavy with his mouth open and he was worked up,” Hubley said in a statement provided to the Serious Incident Response Team in September 2020. 

He said the man’s unusual demeanour made him take a closer look. Hubley recognized the face from photos he had seen on the wall earlier that day at the RCMP command post in Great Village, and realized it was the same man who had just killed his colleague Const. Heidi Stevenson.

Nova Scotia Victims Of Mass Shooting

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

Hubley yelled, “Benny it’s him” and pointed his pistol directly at the suspect. Both officers describe how the man also reached for a gun.

“That’s when I saw a silver and black pistol coming up with his right hand, and I made the decision at that point to fire,” said MacLeod. “I focused on the pistol right away. I knew that it looked like an RCMP general duty pistol. I knew that Heidi’s had been stolen.”

Hubley said he was less than five metres from the suspect and had a clear shot through the passenger side window.

“There was no time to move to cover because Wortman was already in the process of killing me,” he said.

Both officers shot the suspect multiple times. Hubley had a pistol and MacLeod had an ERT carbine rifle. 

“Even as I’m firing, he… he’s bringing the gun up. He ends up bringing it up to his temple. I didn’t know at the time if he got a shot off or not. I continue to fire until he was no longer a threat,” said MacLeod.

MacLeod said Hubley then used his vehicle radio to communicate “where we were and what we had.” The pair believed Wortman was barely alive, but said they followed their training by not approaching him. 

Within minutes, the ERT team arrived and extracted Wortman from the vehicle, which he had stolen from his last victim, Gina Goulet. He was placed in custody, then officers determined he was dead.

Reflecting on the takedown

During an interview with the commission last September, MacLeod said he didn’t recall hitting the emergency button on his radio, which opens communication to broadcast what’s happening, until he was told about it months later. He said he likely hit it subconsciously after Hubley alerted him the suspect was there.

The entire encounter was recorded as a result. When the commission asked MacLeod how long the encounter lasted, he said there can be “some time distortions in a stressful incident.” 

“If you had asked me this last year or in the days after, would have said the whole thing happened within five seconds from the time I got out, moved around and shooting. Listening to that audio, it looks like it was closer to maybe 20 seconds,” he said.

Hubley said he had feared for his own life, and MacLeod’s that day, knowing the gunman had already murdered numerous civilians and one police officer.

“I believed that he had no intention of surrendering. He used violence to defeat a police officer and clearly was continuing his killing rampage despite encountering an authority figure. I believed that he was trying to kill as many people as possible,” he said.

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