Police said Wednesday they caught a break several hours into a manhunt for the perpetrator of the worst mass shooting in Canadian history when they learned he was wearing a patrolman’s uniform and driving a mock squad car.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chief Superintendent Chris Leather also confirmed that the attacker acted alone in the shooting and arson spree in which he killed at least 22 people.
But authorities, he said, “are continuing to investigate whether anyone may have assisted him, leading up to the incident,” including helping him to acquire the unregistered guns used in the shooting spree or the police uniform he wore.
The gunman, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, launched his rampage late Saturday in the seaside village of Portapique. His motive remains a mystery.
Wortman died roughly 14 hours later after being shot by police at a gas station outside Halifax, 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
Going over a preliminary timeline of events, Leather said police responded to an emergency call about a possible shooting at 10:26 pm Saturday (0326 GMT Sunday), which was soon “determined to be a homicide.”
A search revealed additional victims as well as fires. A police perimeter was set up and the search continued into Sunday morning, but by 8 am it became clear that the suspect had fled.
At around this time, “a key witness” helped police identify the suspect and they learned that he was wearing what turned out to be a real police uniform and driving a fake police car.
“The bulk of the details about our suspect came to us” from the witness between 7 and 8 am, said Leather.
Within two and a half hours, police caught up with Wortman.
At least 22 people were shot or burned to death in fires set by the suspect. Witnesses have told local media that Wortman lit homes on fire and shot residents as they escaped the flames.
The victims identified so far include a veteran police officer, a 17-year-old girl, a nurse, and pregnant care worker, an elementary school teacher, prison guards and a retired firefighter.
Police have said more victims may be found as they continue to comb through the rubble of several burned homes and vehicles.
A search for evidence is ongoing at 16 locations in the towns of Portapique, Wentworth, Debert, Shubenacadie, Milford and Enfield.
Local media said Wortman was a denturist who owned clinics in Halifax and Dartmouth that were closed under the pandemic lockdown.
He was also reportedly obsessed with policing, having refurbished several old squad cars, and struggled with alcoholism.