The gunman who killed 22 people in April 2020 tried to get gas in Elmsdale, N.S., at a pump next to a police officer shortly before he was killed by RCMP at another nearby gas station, according to video recently posted online.
Earlier this week, Frank Magazine posted excerpts of three surveillance videos obtained by freelance journalist Paul Palango. CBC News does not know the original source of the videos.
One 29-second clip shows the shooter driving a grey Mazda belonging to one of his victims at a Petro-Canada in Elmsdale, not far from the exit to Highway 102, the main highway heading south to Halifax. He appears to be trying to pump gas and then drives to another pump while a tactical officer stands next to a large SUV on the opposite side of the first pump.
The RCMP never publicly mentioned this stop nor did a report by Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) that looked into the police shooting of the gunman, who by that point had travelled nearly 200 kilometres and burned homes and vehicles in several rural communities where he killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers.
Two RCMP officers shot and killed Gabriel Wortman at an Irving Big Stop in Enfield, N.S., more than 13 hours after neighbours first called for help from Portapique, N.S., where the 51-year-old denturist had a cottage. During most of the rampage, he was wearing a police uniform and driving a vehicle he'd outfitted to look like an RCMP cruiser.
RCMP declined to comment, citing ongoing lawsuits and the public inquiry.
SIRT's director, Felix Cacchione, said video from the Petro-Canada was part of the materials he reviewed, but he didn't draw any conclusions from it beyond that it showed the suspect had changed out of a police uniform and was driving the car he stole from Gina Goulet, the last person he killed.
Cacchione said he found no evidence that RCMP officers followed the gunman from the Petro-Canada to the Big Stop about 7.5 kilometres away.
"There was no indication in any of the radio transmissions that indicated he had been recognized and a broadcast made that he was driving a grey Mazda 3 vehicle. There was nothing like that. The officers didn't know — the officers at the Petro-Can — that it was him," said Cacchione.
In its summary of the investigation into the shooting, SIRT determined the two police officers, who had seen the bodies of people killed in Portapique the previous night, were lawfully justified in shooting their suspect.
The report said it was "a mere coincidence" that they stopped to refuel and recognized the gunman sitting in a vehicle at the adjacent pump. After one officer called out to his colleague, they saw Wortman raise Const. Heidi Stevenson's gun, prompting them both to start firing, the report found.
Gun drawn within seconds
One of the videos Frank Magazine posted shows that three seconds after opening his door, an officer had his gun drawn. It's not clear at what point he started firing.
Cacchione disputed the suggestion that the officer, a dog handler, got out of the vehicle intending to shoot. He said it only took seconds for the officer to spot a bruise on the gunman's forehead and realize it was the man wanted for murdering several people.
"Getting out of the vehicle, [the officer] would have been looking directly at the affected party and that's when he recognized him. There was no indication that he recognized him while he was in the police vehicle," said Cacchione.
Additional camera angles
As part of the investigation, Cacchione, a former Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice, said he reviewed videos from the Irving that were longer than the clips Frank Magazine posted and taken from additional angles.
The images were also clearer, he said, adding that one showed both the suspect's car and the RCMP vehicle driving in, and the frame was wider on the image of the police vehicle.
"The quality [of video] we viewed was excellent, it was not grainy. It was typical of surveillance footage but it was not blurry," he said. "What I see on screen from Frank Magazine is very condensed compared to what I saw."
He said viewing snippets of video can change the appearance of the events. However, Cacchione said he could not release the full videos and said SIRT handed over its files to the public inquiry that is now examining the events of April 18 and 19, 2020.
"I would rather that the entire footage be posted than to pick and choose portions," he said.
Officer also passed suspect on road
The encounter at the Petro-Canada was not the only close encounter RCMP officers had with their suspect that Sunday morning.
Speaking at a June 4, 2020, press conference, the last held in relation to the investigation, Supt. Darren Campbell said one officer passed Wortman on the road near Glenholme, N.S., about an hour and a half before he reached the gas stations.
Campbell also said RCMP believed they had their suspect cornered at a home in the community after residents called 911 reporting that the gunman had showed up at their door. But they missed him by minutes and he went on to kill five more people.
Public hearings start in October
On Wednesday, the mass casualty commission examining the tragedy announced public proceedings will begin Oct. 26 and run until Dec. 10. One of the venues will be the Halifax Convention Centre.
The joint federal and provincial inquiry is looking at the cause, context and events during the massacre, including how police and various federal and provincial agencies responded. It will also examine intimate partner violence and the gunman's access to firearms.
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