Court documents says mass shooter's spouse was beaten, begged for life before escape

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HALIFAX — The spouse of the gunman who killed 22 people in Nova Scotia told police that on the night he began his rampage she was beaten and shot at, and she begged for her life before she managed to escape.

Newly released court documents also say the assault of Lisa Banfield by her common law partner Gabriel Wortman on the night of April 18 wasn't the first such incident, and that he was "abusive towards her in the past, but she never reported any of the abuse."

The details of an argument between Banfield and Wortman, and the attack on her that followed are included in a statement she provided to RCMP Const. Terry Brown on April 19, which was used as part of a police application for a search warrant.

After his assault on Banfield and her escape, Wortman began a killing rampage, which only ended the next day after a police officer shot him dead at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

According to Banfield's account, an argument started during an evening party to celebrate their 19th anniversary at the "warehouse," one of the buildings the gunman owned in Portapique, N.S. During a FaceTime call to discuss holding a "commitment ceremony" for their 20th anniversary, a friend had suggested "don't do it," the witness statement says.

Banfield said in the statement she became upset and said she was leaving the party, and her partner became angry that she was leaving. Banfield told the officer she felt sorry and returned to apologize, but Wortman was "already mad," and she continued back to their cottage in Portapique.

"Banfield went to bed and Gabriel Wortman came in and ripped the blankets off her and started to beat her up ... told her to get dressed and said, 'It's done,' " according to the document.

It says the killer poured gasoline around the cottage, told Banfield to get a gun out of the cottage and then made her walk in front of him towards the warehouse in order to pour gasoline on it as well.

The statement says he wouldn't allow her to walk behind him and "ripped her shoes off her feet." At one point, she started to run from him but tripped and fell.

"Wortman picked her up by the hair and started pulling her towards the warehouse. Wortman tried to handcuff her but only got one handcuff on and then he started shooting at the ground around her," the document says.

"Lisa Banfield begged Gabriel Wortman not to kill her. He shot the firearm again and then put her in the back of the police car and then he went upstairs in the warehouse." The gunman owned several decommissioned police vehicles.

According to the statement, she managed to kick the window out of the car and to crawl through, and then ran into the woods.

She hid through the night before going to a neighbour's house, where police met her and took a statement from her at 6:30 a.m.

Another witness, described in the documents as a "carpenter and friend of Gabriel Wortman," told an officer during an interview that he'd heard Banfield saying in the past that Wortman had "put a gun to her head."

The 52-year-old Banfield is among three people charged with unlawfully transferring ammunition, specifically .223 calibre Remington cartridges and .40 calibre Smith and Wesson cartridges, to the gunman in the month before his rampage.

However, police have noted, she and others had "no prior knowledge of the gunman's actions.''

Several groups that advocate for abused women have criticized the charges against Banfield, citing the evidence of prior assaults against her and the coercive control the gunman had over her life.

In a news release in December, Martha Paynter, chair of Wellness Within, a non-profit group serving criminalized women, said the charges caused her to feel "profound disappointment" in the RCMP, saying her arrest demonstrated a lack of understanding by the force that "intimate partner violence is about power and control."

In May last year, a former neighbour of the gunman told The Canadian Press she had reported Wortman's domestic violence and cache of firearms to the RCMP in 2013.

The neighbour said she passed on reports that Wortman had held down and beaten Banfield behind one of the properties he owned in Portapique.

Domestic violence is being examined as an aspect of the mass shooting, and the upcoming public inquiry has been mandated to consider "contributing and contextual factors, including the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press