HALIFAX — As police continue their investigation into a mass killing that claimed 22 lives last month in rural Nova Scotia, newly released documents reveal the RCMP recently seized and searched the killer’s computer, cellphone, tablet and navigation devices.
The search warrants, unsealed by a judge on Monday, do not provide details about what police found because their investigation has yet to be completed. As a result, the documents are heavily redacted.
The warrants say police were looking for firearms, ammunition, explosives, chemicals, surveillance systems, computers, electronic devices, police-related clothing, human remains and “documents related to planning mass murder events” and the acquisition of weapons.
Each of the warrants is accompanied by a grim recounting of the events that started on the night of April 18, when 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman allegedly assaulted his common-law spouse at one of his seasonal homes in the village of Portapique, N.S.
Armed with several semi-automatic weapons, he set fire to properties and killed 13 people in Portapiqe before he left the area, disguised as a Mountie and driving a vehicle that looked exactly like an RCMP cruiser.
He killed another nine people the following day in several other communities in northern and central Nova Scotia before an RCMP officer fatally shot him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 90 kilometres south of Portapique.
The suspect remained at large for 13 hours.
“Gabriel Wortman showed a complete disregard for human life as he shot at people sitting in their cars, people walking along the side of the road, and at people in their private homes,” says a document prepared by RCMP Sgt. Angela Hawryluk.
Investigators have said little when asked what may have motivated the killer.
The RCMP documents say police seized a Samsung cellphone, Toshiba laptop, Acer tablet, a data-storage card and a Garmin global positioning device from the gunman’s denture clinic in Dartmouth, N.S., on April 20, the day after he was killed by police.
As well, the warrants and other documents say police have obtained data from the infotainment systems inside two vehicles seized from the same property: a 2013 Ford Taurus Police Interceptor and a 2015 C-300 Mercedes-Benz.
Police say these systems can store synchronized cellphone data regarding navigation, texting, phone calls and internet-enabled content including traffic conditions and weather.
Meanwhile, the RCMP have filed a so-called production order with telecommunications provider Telus Communications Inc., based in Scarborough, Ont. The order says the Mounties are seeking documents and data from Telus Mobility, but the specific requests have been redacted.
Investigators obtained warrants to search at least four other properties owned by the killer, two of them in Portapique.
Police confirmed that nothing was seized from 287 Portapique Beach Road, which was destroyed by fire.
At another burned property, 136 Orchard Beach Drive, police found something they described as “rounds,” but the description on either side of that word has been blacked out.
At 200 Portapique Beach Road, Wortman’s main seasonal residence, police found an ammunition box with a burnt $100 bill, a black plastic bag, a burnt receipt box and burnt pieces of a rifle.
Police were also granted permission to search a second denture clinic at 3542 Novalea Drive in Halifax, where they hoped to find another computer. But the search turned up nothing.
The documents released Monday were unsealed after a media consortium, including The Canadian Press, went to court.
Last week, the court released other documents that revealed statements from witnesses who described Wortman as an abusive “sociopath” who had suffered a mental breakdown and was stockpiling guns while displaying paranoid behaviour because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One witness said Wortman “had been disturbed and that he was severely abused as a young boy,” adding he was “very smart, cheated and was a psychopath.” Another witness said Wortman had described ways to get rid of bodies using chemicals.
The document confirmed Wortman had purchased used police cars at auctions and had obtained decals to make one vehicle, another Ford Taurus, look exactly like an RCMP cruiser.
In the reasons given for seeking search warrants, Hawryluk describes how the first two officers to arrive in Portapique on the night of April 18 encountered a wounded witness who told them he’d been fired upon by a man in uniform driving what they thought was an RCMP vehicle.
The witness told police his ”first suspicion was that (the gunman) was … Gabe (Wortman) because his barn was on fire and he had a look-a-like Taurus that he was calling a police car.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press