ENFIELD, N.S. — A suspect in an active shooter investigation was placed in custody Sunday at an Irving service station in Nova Scotia, after police said there were “multiple victims” in an incident that began in a small coastal village where frightened local residents took cover in their basements overnight.
A man identified by police as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman was placed in custody by the RCMP at the Enfield, N.S., gas station about 35 kilometres northwest of downtown Halifax.
By late morning local time the scene was surrounded by a half dozen police vehicles. Yellow police tape surrounded the gas pumps, and a large silver-coloured SUV was being investigated by police.
A body was seen lying at the gas station. Police would not comment on the body’s identity.
Police didn’t immediately say how many victims there were, or the nature of their injuries.
The incident started in the small, rural town of Portapique with residents reporting police vehicles filling the streets and advising residents of the community about 40 kilometres west of Truro to lock their homes and stay in their basements.
Several building fires were reported by residents as well, but police didn’t immediately confirm details.
Christine Mills, a resident of the town, said it had been a frightening night for the small town, which suddenly filled with armed officers patrolling the streets. In the morning, helicopters flew overhead searching for the suspect.
“I feel better now to know he’s in custody,” she said, adding she was fearful the shooter might have gone through the woods and attempted to enter her home.
“It’s nerve wracking because you don’t know if somebody has lost their mind and is going to beat in your front door,” she said.
Tom Taggart, a councillor who represents the Portapique area in the Municipality of Colchester, said the quiet community has been shaken.
“This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable,” Taggart said by phone from his home in Bass River, about three kilometres from the lockdown area.
“People live here because of the peace and quiet and it’s just an absolute tragedy.”
The RCMP stated earlier in the day the suspect was driving a car that looked like a police vehicle, but by 11 a.m. local time he was “believed to be driving a small, silver Chevrolet SUV,” travelling southbound on Highway 102.
Christine Mills, a resident of the community, says police officers walked through the community with their guns drawn through the night, and helicopters had been flying over homes on Sunday morning.
Cpl. Lisa Croteau, public information officer with the provincial force, confirmed a tweet saying there are “multiple victims” but could not provide a number or say whether any people had been killed.
The suspect appeared to have moved over 100 kilometres between Portapique and Enfield before his arrest.
The RCMP posted an update on Twitter just after 10:15 a.m., warning that the male suspect was in the Debert and Central Oslow area and may be dressed as a police officer in a police lookalike vehicle.
In an earlier tweet, the police force identified the suspect as Wortman, describing him as “armed and dangerous.”
A Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist in Dartmouth, according to the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. A suspect photo issued by the RCMP matches video footage of a man being interviewed about dentures by CTV Atlantic in 2014.
Mills also said that Wortman was known locally as a denturist who divided his time between a residence in Halifax and a residence in Portapique.
Taggart said he didn’t know Wortman well, but spoke to him a few times when he telephoned about municipal issues.
Taggart described knowing Wortman’s “lovely big home” on Portapique Beach Road. He said Wortman owned a few other properties in the community and was believed to divide his time between Portapique and his business in Dartmouth.
He described Portapique as “cottage country,” with about 100 year-round residents and 250 in the summer.
“You just don’t even dream that this is going to happen,” he said. “I can’t fathom it.”
Police identified Wortman about nine hours after an initial tweet around midnight asking people to avoid the Portapique area and stay indoors as officers responded to a firearms complaint.
Croteau said the police received a call about “a person with firearms” at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and the investigation ”evolved into an active shooting investigation.”
She said some people were evacuated around Portapique Beach Road, Bay Shore Road and Five Houses Road, where the first complaint initiated.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the situation during his morning press conference focusing on the COVID-19 crisis.
“My heart goes out to everyone affected in what is a terrible situation,” he said. “I want to thank the police for their hard work and people for co-operating with authorities.”