November 22, 2020

It was just days before his 46th birthday and Greg Blair was finally mortgage- and debt-free. He and his wife, Jamie — affectionately known as Chicken to her friends and family — ran a business together, selling and installing propane and natural gas equipment across Nova Scotia. In their downtime, they loved being outdoors and spent their days surrounded by family.

"They're great people," Tyler Blair told The Fifth Estate. "Very hard workers. My father worked very hard his whole life and ... was about to start living life."

On the night of April 18, 2020, the Blairs hosted two neighbours for dinner in their rural community of Portapique. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, they ate steak and potatoes at a table set up in the garage with the doors open, allowing the cool spring air in.

After dinner, the couple planned to spend the evening burning some brush they'd cleared that day. But around 10 p.m. that night, their plans were interrupted.

Gabriel Wortman wasn't a friend of the Blairs. The denturist had a log cottage on Portapique Beach Road, the next road over, and would drive by their house on the way to his other property, a lavish garage where he meticulously worked on his collection of motorcycles.

Parked inside that warehouse on Orchard Beach Road, unknown to many, was a fully marked replica police vehicle Wortman had put together.

People in the community considered Wortman eccentric. From time to time, he'd show off his bar with its extensive liquor supply inside the wood-panelled garage. But some who knew him say he was a nasty drunk and prone to fits of rage — whether it be directed at people he'd hire to work on his property or his long-term partner.

That April night, after RCMP say he got in an argument with his partner, Wortman started a rampage, killing 22 people across Nova Scotia in Canada's largest mass shooting in modern history: 13 people in Portapique; four in Wentworth; two in Debert; three more in Shubenacadie.

WATCH | Tyler Blair says his dad and stepmom were "great people":

And for almost 12 hours after he left the community, the people of Nova Scotia would receive little information from the RCMP about the danger that stalked rural roads; a man killing at random disguised as a Mountie.

The Fifth Estate has learned the RCMP received crucial details, including the identity of the suspect and that he was driving what appeared to be a fully marked replica police car, from the first person they encountered on the scene that night in Portapique at 10:26 p.m., nearly 12 hours before they shared it with the public — information victims' families say could have saved the lives of their loved ones.

Saturday: 10:01 p.m.

In the seven months since, Tyler Blair, 27, has learned only some of the specifics of what happened to his dad and stepmom that night.

He told The Fifth Estate that while his younger brothers, aged 10 and 12, were playing video games, his stepmother Jamie and the young boys heard Greg yell, "What the f--k are you doing with a gun?"

They heard a shot. In an instant, Greg was killed steps from his front door.

"That's when Jamie ran back into the [house] and got [my brothers] and pushed them down the hallway, and they all ran down into their bedroom," Tyler Blair said.

He said his stepmother called 911 at 10:01 p.m. She was the first person to alert the RCMP to a problem in Portapique. She stayed on the line while shielding her sons from the gunman on the other side of the bedroom door.

Greg and Jamie Blair were killed at their home as their two young sons hid under a bed, where a bullet nearly missed them as it went through the mattress. (Jamie Blair/Facebook)
Greg and Jamie Blair were killed at their home as their two young sons hid under a bed, where a bullet nearly missed them as it went through the mattress. (Jamie Blair/Facebook)

"My two little brothers hid behind the bed, and Jamie put her back up against the interior door of their bedroom," Tyler Blair said. "He just shot right through it."

Much later, when Tyler went to the house to collect some of Greg and Jamie's things, he said he found at least eight bullet holes through that bedroom door.

"There's one that actually went through the mattress of the bed, where my little brothers were hiding, and probably missed them by about a foot," he said.

After witnessing their mother die, the young boys realized the gunman was trying to set the house on fire. The older boy found logs from their wood stove strewn across the floor. The propane stove was on, with hotdog and hamburger buns thrown on the top near the flaming elements.

Seven months later, bullet holes can be seen in a window and the exterior wall of the Blairs' house. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
Seven months later, bullet holes can be seen in a window and the exterior wall of the Blairs' house. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The brothers bolted through the woods towards their neighbour's house to seek help.

In the meantime, the shooter continued on his rampage through Portapique. Thirteen people would be dead by the time he left the community, and he was far from finished.

Saturday: About 10:05 p.m.

Next door to the Blairs, elementary school teacher Lisa McCully had been enjoying the saltwater air during her nightly ritual — a peaceful walk along the shore.

Portapique is a small, rural community overlooking a river that flows into Cobequid Bay, the easternmost tip of the Bay of Fundy. It's made up of a mix of cottages, trailers and homes nestled on the shore. There are a handful of gravel roads and no street lights. About 100 or so people call the area home, although the population doubles during the summer when families flock to the beach.

McCully moved to the area in part because she loved being close to nature. When she wasn't making music, the 49-year-old spent her free time hiking, doing yoga and playing with her children.

"She was fearless, she was your classic mama bear, she was so protective of everyone," said her sister Jenny Kierstead.

After McCully returned home and put her son and daughter to bed that evening, she noticed something troubling and stepped outside.

She lived directly across from Wortman's garage, though dense spruce trees usually blocked the view of anything beyond the driveway and the metal gate he normally kept locked. That night though, the building's frame was disintegrating against the moonless sky.

"She had gone out to see these flames that were higher than the tree line, and went out because she saw an RCMP officer," Kierstead said. "Probably [to] ask, should we evacuate, what the heck is going on?"

The burned-out patch of grass shows where Gabriel Wortman's garage used to be — directly across the road from Lisa McCully's red house. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
The burned-out patch of grass shows where Gabriel Wortman's garage used to be — directly across the road from Lisa McCully's red house. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

McCully called 911 and then approached someone she thought was a Mountie there to help.

It was Wortman, dressed as an RCMP officer — standing near a marked vehicle. As she approached him, he shot and killed her.

Kierstead said it was reassuring to learn from police that her sister died instantly.

McCully's children remained inside alone but answered the door when the Blair boys later showed up looking for help. After calling 911, the four friends huddled under the stairs in the basement.

The RCMP dispatcher tried to keep them calm and told them to wait for someone to rescue them. The dispatcher told the kids an RCMP officer would have a special word they would tell the children so they would know it was a real officer — and that it was finally safe to come out.

Saturday: 10:20 p.m.

Lisa McCully wasn't the only person alarmed by the fire at Wortman's garage. After they noticed flames, a man and woman who lived up the road jumped in their car to get a closer look and called 911.

The man, who we'll refer to as PR, has never spoken publicly about his experience and declined to be interviewed.

The Fifth Estate obtained an audio statement he gave in August to a private investigator who is working on behalf of victims' families to investigate the events of that night.

In the statement, he describes telling the RCMP about being shot by Wortman in a mock-RCMP vehicle — information the RCMP didn't share with the public until more than 12 hours after they'd received it.

PR said that while driving to see what was going on, he and his wife spotted an RCMP vehicle parked in front of Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn's blue house at the top of Orchard Beach Drive.

Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn's retirement home in Portapique no longer exists. It was one of three homes belonging to victims that the gunman burned. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn's retirement home in Portapique no longer exists. It was one of three homes belonging to victims that the gunman burned. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

PR said they told the dispatcher that it appeared an RCMP officer was already on scene, but he found it strange that the car was empty and the roof lights weren't on.

The couple continued down the road towards the fire, and as they got closer realized it was coming from the denturist's garage. PR said he thought to call his neighbour Gabe and tell him, but remembered Gabe didn't have a cellphone. PR and Gabe were friendly — they'd been neighbours for nearly a decade. PR said they would have a beer together now and then or talk about working on cars or motorcycles.

After seeing the fire, PR and his wife turned around and went back up the road — still on the phone with 911, where the operator was trying to transfer them to the fire department. They stopped in front of the Gulenchyns' and noticed someone was now in the cruiser.

"Over the cop car and through the kitchen window the whole kitchen lit up on fire fast," PR said. "Like, fast. So, we kinda [thought], something's wrong."

"Not very often you see two fires at once and like, why is there a police officer here?" he said. "It didn't make sense."

(CBC)
(CBC)

The Fifth Estate has learned that by that point, at least three people had called 911, including Jamie Blair, who reported that her husband was killed by a gunman before she, too, was shot shortly after 10 p.m.

But PR said the dispatcher didn't tell him what was going on. Months later, he told the investigator that he is still frustrated that he and his wife weren't warned of the danger ahead.

"So there's 20-some minutes before we called and ... they should have told us to get the f--k out of there, but they didn't," he said in the audio obtained by The Fifth Estate. "Why didn't the dispatcher know to tell us to get out of there because people are getting shot?"

As they drove back towards their house, they noticed someone was in the RCMP car — and that person started driving towards them. The car pulled up beside PR and his wife.

"I rolled down the window to tell the RCMP officer that one, we're not lighting the fires, and two, we're on the phone with 911," PR said.

That's when the man he thought was an RCMP officer rolled down his own window and started firing a handgun at them.

PR recognized the shooter was his neighbour, Gabriel Wortman.

"We ducked quickly and I got shot in my forehead and one went through my arm," the audio tapes obtained by The Fifth Estate reveal. "My wife was OK but at that point I saw Gabe ... and I saw his gun. He had a laser sight on the gun and thank God he did, because if not I wouldn't have seen the handgun at all because it was dark."

Despite being hit twice — one bullet through the shoulder, the other grazing his forehead — PR managed to drive away.

Around 10:26, he encountered the first RCMP officer on scene. His account was confirmed in a summary of his police statement contained in search warrant documents CBC and other media organizations obtained in court.

WATCH | Clinton Ellison describes the terrifying night he spent hiding in the woods after he discovered his brother had been shot by the gunman:

Clinton Ellison says he hid in the woods for hours after discovering the body of his brother, Corrie, the night of the mass shooting in Portapique.

The Fifth Estate has learned it was at this point PR told the RCMP officer that crucial information about the suspect and his disguise.

"I told [the RCMP officer] right away it's my neighbour Gabe," PR said in the audio tape. "[I told him] he had ... an RCMP car. I knew he had those cars but I'd never seen them badged ... So that's when I first told him it was him in the car."

The constable he told this to immediately relayed the information over his police radio, PR said.

By this point, PR said, there were three officers on scene: The first to whom he told the information, the second who checked his gunshot wounds to make sure he was OK and the third, who took him and his wife to the end of the road to wait for help.

"[That officer] was watching the woods to make sure nothing came out at us," he said in the interview obtained by The Fifth Estate.

"It was dark and it was terrifying for anybody there," he said. "I don't know how they, those first officers on scene, I can't imagine what they had to walk into."

RCMP 'overwhelmed'

Audio of Nova Scotia's Emergency Health Services (EHS) dispatch that night reveals that at 10:49 p.m., they were told RCMP were "overwhelmed" and needed help.

When the specialized Emergency Response Team (ERT) eventually arrived kitted out in SWAT gear from Halifax, 130 kilometres away, they tried to clear some houses on the first road in the subdivision — pounding on doors and telling people to get out fast. They left others to sleep through the night, unaware of what was happening around them.

But it's unclear what happened on the ground when police arrived. In the seven months since the tragedy, the RCMP would not say how many officers were dispatched but insist the support was sufficient and officers followed their training.

"As dictated by their training, their objective was to locate and to stop that threat," Supt. Darren Campbell said in a media conference on June 4. "This is exactly what those RCMP first responders were working towards."

Portapique is nestled on the shores of Cobequid Bay, which leads into the Bay of Fundy. Along the eastern edge, there is a dirt road along a blueberry field that the gunman used to get out of the community. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
Portapique is nestled on the shores of Cobequid Bay, which leads into the Bay of Fundy. Along the eastern edge, there is a dirt road along a blueberry field that the gunman used to get out of the community. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

People who were in the area that night have a different story.

Witnesses have told The Fifth Estate the initial response consisted of three to four officers. How, when or even if they advanced on the scene in Portapique is still a mystery.

A neighbour, who spoke to The Fifth Estate on the condition of anonymity, said he didn't see any police presence on Orchard Beach Drive, the scene of six killings, until the emergency response team arrived at 12:45 a.m. Sunday — nearly three hours after he called 911 reporting gunshots.

Another resident, Leon Joudrey, said he encountered an ERT vehicle outside Wortman's burnt cottage but didn't see any police officers when he drove around Orchard Beach Road around 4 a.m., unaware his neighbours had been killed.

"It seems to me that the RCMP are not wanting the entire story to come out about how the response to this tragedy took place," Rob Pineo, a lawyer representing the families of the victims in a lawsuit against the shooter's estate, told The Fifth Estate. "To be frank, [their response] seems to be quite embarrassing [for the RCMP]."

The Fifth Estate has learned police didn't make it to the home of Emily, Jolene and Oliver Tuck until 19 hours after police believe they were killed in their home. Investigators would later tell family members they didn't discover the three bodies until 5 p.m. Sunday — 19 hours after police believe they were killed.

It would also take the RCMP more than two hours to rescue the four children hiding in Lisa McCully's basement.

The two McCully children and the two Blair children hid in the basement of Lisa McCully’s house for more than two hours, waiting for the RCMP to rescue them. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
The two McCully children and the two Blair children hid in the basement of Lisa McCully’s house for more than two hours, waiting for the RCMP to rescue them. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"It shouldn't take two hours to go in and get four young kids out of an area that you know some madman's running around with a gun," Blair told The Fifth Estate. "It is a f--king long time for them to be sitting there ... I don't know why somebody wasn't sent in earlier to get them out of there."

The RCMP later told their families that as many as six officers were stationed around the house to protect the children. But Blair doesn't buy it.

"The RCMP have been caught in so many lies already," he told The Fifth Estate. "It's hard for me to believe a word that comes out of their mouth."

On the ground and in their makeshift operations headquarters in a nearby firehall, the RCMP seemed to be putting the pieces together about the horror that had unfolded in Portapique.

Around 3 a.m., an RCMP investigator called PR to go over his story again. They spoke for about an hour and PR sent the investigator a photo of Wortman he'd found on Facebook, "just to confirm," he said.

PR said in total, he told the RCMP three times about Wortman and the marked car.

But it wouldn't be until 12 hours after PR's first conversation that the RCMP would share that crucial information with the public.

The RCMP has repeatedly refused to speak with The Fifth Estate about the mass shootings.

During the 13-hour rampage, the RCMP communicated with the public via Twitter. They'd later say they were counting on local media to relay information to the public.

At 11:32 p.m. the RCMP first tweeted they were dealing with a "firearms complaint" in Portapique — no mention of fires, a gunman or anyone being hurt or killed.

(CBC)
(CBC)

And critically, no mention of those key details The Fifth Estate has learned they were investigating overnight: that it was Wortman in a mock-RCMP vehicle.

According to internal bulletins that were circulated to police agencies across the province, by 1 a.m., the RCMP had identified the 51-year-old as a suspect who was "armed and dangerous" and associated him with "an old white police car."

The RCMP spent the night tracking vehicles associated with the gunman, including three decommissioned police cars. They found one white Ford Taurus burning at each of the shooter's properties in Portapique. A third would be located at his business in Dartmouth.

When all three cars had been accounted for, The Fifth Estate has learned the RCMP made a fateful assumption. By dawn, they concluded the gunman must have taken his own life — not an unusual outcome after a violent rampage — and thought they'd find the evidence somewhere in the rubble of his torched properties.

An RCMP source says some officers were even sent home at that point.

And while Mounties blocked off a section of Highway 2 connected to Portapique Beach Road, there was something else they hadn't realized: Portapique had a back way out — a dirt road along a blueberry field that leads to the highway, a few hundred metres from the subdivision's main entrance.

RCMP have said their investigation later determined the gunman escaped down that road about 20 minutes after police arrived — driving approximately 27 kilometres to the community of Debert. He spent the night parked behind a welding shop.

Sunday: 6:30 a.m.

The RCMP have always insisted they didn't know that Wortman was using a replica police car until around 6:30 a.m. Sunday.

"Those details came in their totality to us early in the morning of Sunday, after a key witness was located and interviewed," RCMP said in a media conference on April 22. "Prior to that time, we did not have all those details. The bulk of the details about our suspect came to us at that time."

That key witness was the gunman's spouse. Police say they got in a fight and he assaulted her, which was the start of the rampage that Saturday night.

The Fifth Estate has learned the woman told investigators that Wortman restrained her with a handcuff on one of her wrists. She said she escaped from the marked police car by crawling through the window in the divider between the front and backseat, fleeing and hiding until daybreak.

Around 8 a.m., after police spoke with her, an updated bulletin was sent out, telling other police forces the gunman was potentially driving a "fully marked Ford Taurus," and gave the car number. It warned "he could be anywhere in the province" and "was arrestable for homicide."

At almost the same time the RCMP was telling other police services that information, the force released its second tweet — saying there was an "active shooter" investigation in Portapique, not "anywhere in the province" as they had said internally.

Two hours later, around 9 a.m., the RCMP identified Wortman publicly as the suspected shooter in a tweet. But that tweet still contained no mention of a mock-RCMP car or a police uniform.

It wouldn't be until after 10 a.m. Sunday, and after the gunman killed 19 people, that police would release this information. It remains unclear why they waited.

They also didn't mention he could be anywhere in the province, as they'd identified internally — or even the possibility that he'd left Portapique, where he left behind the bodies of 13 of his neighbours.

Among those killed in Portapique were Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and their daughter Emily and three couples who retired to Portapique in recent years: Joy and Peter Bond, Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn and John Zahl and Joanne Thomas. Corrie Ellison, 42, was also shot on Orchard Beach Road after going to see if anyone was in trouble when he spotted the flames at Wortman's warehouse. His brother, who discovered his body, hid in the woods for hours fearing the gunman was after him, too.

Seven months later, many families of 22 victims who were killed in Canada's largest mass shooting struggle with what they say is a lack of information from the RCMP. (CBC)
Seven months later, many families of 22 victims who were killed in Canada's largest mass shooting struggle with what they say is a lack of information from the RCMP. (CBC)

Sunday: 6:30 a.m.

As word of the destruction began to travel informally among family and friends, people awoke to their normal Sunday routines. For those whose weekend rituals included scrolling through social media, some spotted posts about police activity in a corner of Colchester County.

At this point, the information released to the public via Twitter by the RCMP was still only that there was an active shooter in Portapique, and residents in that area should stay inside with their doors locked. People in other parts of the province were cautious, but saw no reason to worry.

But that bright Sunday morning, what looked like a Mountie in a patrol car was travelling north, taking the lone highway into the Wentworth Valley. He wouldn't stop until he was more than halfway across northern Nova Scotia.

Around 6:30 a.m., videos taken along a country road 50 kilometres from Portapique show the mock-RCMP cruiser with a distinctive black push bar heading to the home of Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins, who worked as managers at federal penitentiaries.

Sean and Alanna were father and stepmother to two daughters, who say their parents loved to host friends and their home on Hunter Road was always welcoming.

WATCH | Amielia McLeod says her dad and stepmom were loving, welcomed everyone:

"I wouldn't be who I am without him, like I grew up going fishing, hunting, like he taught me everything. They were really caring, selfless, loving, fun," said Sean's daughter Amielia McLeod.

The family does not know why the killer targeted them that morning or what he did during the three hours he spent at their home.

Police believe he killed the couple and their two dogs shortly after he arrived. Before he left, he set the house on fire and neighbours say in a matter of minutes, flames engulfed the wall of windows that faced the Wallace River where Sean and Alanna loved to spend their days floating.

The gunman also killed Tom Bagley close to the deck of the home where McLeod and Jenkins lived. Bagley was a retired former firefighter who was out for a walk.

Surveillance videos captured Wortman's car leaving Hunter Road at 9:23 a.m., driving faster than he had hours earlier. On the highway heading south from Wentworth, the gunman killed another stranger, Lillian Campbell, who was out walking.

By now, the information released to the public via Twitter by the RCMP was still that there was an active shooter in Portapique, and residents in that area should stay inside with their doors locked.

It was during these hours that the gunman's spouse emerged from hiding in Portapique, and the RCMP realized their suspect may not be where they thought he was. Around 9 a.m., the RCMP began to receive frantic calls from Wentworth.

When RCMP officers arrived on Hunter Road sometime after 10 a.m., the shooter was long gone — continuing his killing spree close to the warehouse where he'd spent the night.

Sunday: 9:59 a.m.

About 40 kilometres from Portapique in Onslow Mountain, Nick Beaton was making breakfast for his two-year-old son. His wife, Kristen, had just left for work.

She worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses, travelling around Nova Scotia taking care of those who needed her. She was a continuing care assistant and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was especially tired — she was pregnant and had a small child at home.

"She was going to work early in the morning you know six, seven in the morning whatever it was, and [before she left] she came in and gave me a big kiss and a big hug and she said, 'Baby you're the best,'" Nick Beaton said.

"Little did I know that would be the last kiss I'd have."

Nick Beaton said he and his wife, Kristen, shown her during her first pregnancy, had a perfect life with their young son. She had just found out she was pregnant with their second child when she was killed. (Nick Beaton/Facebook)
Nick Beaton said he and his wife, Kristen, shown her during her first pregnancy, had a perfect life with their young son. She had just found out she was pregnant with their second child when she was killed. (Nick Beaton/Facebook)

Meanwhile, in nearby Masstown, Heather O'Brien was also getting ready for the day; the nurse, who worked for the same organization as Beaton, was hoping to spend her day off working on her garden. Before she got started, the mother of eight wanted to check in on her family.

Earlier that morning, O'Brien's daughter Darcy Dobson was awoken by her husband with heartbreaking news: their friends Greg and Jamie Blair had been shot and killed in Portapique. Her husband was Jamie's cousin; their sons played hockey together.

"At that point, we weren't sure what had happened [in Portapique]," Dobson said. "I got up at 5:30, made a cup of coffee and called my mom."

Knowing her family was shaken by that news, O'Brien offered to swing by with a round of coffees for her children and smiles for her 12 grandchildren. They all lived in a loop in Colchester County, close enough that O'Brien could stop in for visits and the drinks would still be delivered hot.

"She knew we were all kind of a little bit on edge about what was happening in Portapique," Dobson told The Fifth Estate. "More than anything she just kinda wanted to see us, make sure everybody was OK."

At this point, the only information the O'Brien family had was that something was happening in Portapique and police were still there, so she didn't think much of leaving her house more than 20 kilometres away from the scene.

As she drove, she called a fellow nurse who lived on the opposite side of Portapique. Since there was only one rural highway for her friend to travel — the road that went through Portapique — and the RCMP had part of it blocked off, O'Brien wanted to make sure her coworker could still make it to her appointments.

Heather O'Brien was mother to eight and loved spending time with her 12 grandchildren. (Submitted by Darcy Dobson)
Heather O'Brien was mother to eight and loved spending time with her 12 grandchildren. (Submitted by Darcy Dobson)

Little did O'Brien know the gunman was heading her way, and she was about to run into him on Plains Road in Debert.

She never made it to the coffee shop.

Not far away, after Kristen Beaton left for work, her husband Nick was texting her updates of what was happening in Portapique.

"I'm thinking that ... it was like an isolated incident, that him and family got into it," he said. “Not thinking that he's out targeting innocent people."

The Beatons weren't worried, but were still being careful.

They chatted while she was pulled over on the side of Plains Road, waiting for her next visit. As they spoke, Nick cautioned her not to stop for anyone.

By this time, the RCMP had tweeted the name and a photo of their suspect.

"I just said, 'OK, I'm gonna go to his Facebook to find his picture and send it to you just in case you see him to avoid him,' or what have you," Nick Beaton said.

The photo was a smiling man in a ball cap. It was the last text Kristen Beaton read. The man in the photo came across Beaton as she was pulled over on the side of the road.

At that very same time, Heather O'Brien was heading down the same road, talking to her colleague on the phone. She saw what she thought was an RCMP car.

This RCMP handout photo shows the gunman's car driving through Debert at 10 a.m. on the morning of April 19. (RCMP)
This RCMP handout photo shows the gunman's car driving through Debert at 10 a.m. on the morning of April 19. (RCMP)

At 9:59 a.m., O'Brien heard gunshots. She sent a text message to her kids in their family group chat:

RCMP.

Shots fired Debert.

It was likely the gunfire that killed Kristen Beaton.

"The coworker asked her where she was, and she said the RCMP was there and at that point she had screamed," said Dobson.

The line dropped. Her friend frantically dialled 911.

"I think she probably felt safe [seeing the] RCMP car," Dobson said. "If there's shots being fired in Debert, like at least the cops are here."

O'Brien was killed by the gunman just a few hundred metres from Kristen Beaton.

When O'Brien and Beaton left their homes Sunday morning, they and their families weren't aware that the gunman had fled Portapique — or even that the situation was ongoing.

A memorial for Kristen Beaton sits at the side of Plains Road in Debert, where she was killed. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
A memorial for Kristen Beaton sits at the side of Plains Road in Debert, where she was killed. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"It would have been after mom was killed that they posted he was [nearby]," O'Brien's daughter Darcy Dobson said. "It was after she was killed that they posted he was in an RCMP car."

About 15 minutes after O'Brien and Beaton were killed, Nova Scotia RCMP tweeted their suspect could be dressed as a Mountie driving a vehicle that was all but identical to an actual cruiser. It was 15 minutes too late for the two women. And it was nearly 12 hours after the RCMP received that information.

"The [RCMP] had an opportunity to stop him before the people who died on the 19th were killed," said Dobson. "They failed to give the public the information they needed to stay safe."

"I've gone over and over and over again they didn't release that he was dressed as an officer," Nick Beaton said.

He is adamant if they knew that information, his wife would be by his side today.

"If the RCMP had've armed us with the information of who he was and what they knew by 11 o'clock Saturday night ... she wouldn't have even been on the road," he said.

"Me and many other blue nosers in Nova Scotia were sitting on their front deck with their firearms protecting their family. And she'd have been behind me, she'd have been safe."

In all, the RCMP would release 10 tweets over the 13-hour rampage — releasing new tweets as they received information and sightings of the gunman as he traversed Nova Scotia.

Sunday: 10:49 a.m.

As the RCMP were frantically trying to track down their suspect, Const. Chad Morrison waited in his squad car to meet a colleague. By then, police knew the gunman was on the move.

He and Const. Heidi Stevenson both worked out of Enfield, an hour's drive from Portapique, and had been called to Colchester County to help set up roadblocks. They agreed to meet at an intersection about 50 kilometres from Debert.

According to court documents, Morrison pulled up to an approaching police car in Shubenacadie thinking it was Stevenson there to meet him. It wasn't.

The gunman pulled out a handgun and started firing at Morrison. He was shot in the arm, and managed to drive away — frantically pressing the emergency alarm in his car as he sped off.

The gunman’s mock cruiser was finally stopped when he collided with Const. Heidi Stevenson. The silver SUV was driven by Joey Webber, who was killed by the gunman when he pulled over to help. (Submitted by Rob Pineo)
The gunman’s mock cruiser was finally stopped when he collided with Const. Heidi Stevenson. The silver SUV was driven by Joey Webber, who was killed by the gunman when he pulled over to help. (Submitted by Rob Pineo)

Meanwhile, less than 500 metres from where he struck Morrison, the gunman spotted Stevenson. He turned to intercept her, veering both cars into the guardrails of the ramp onto Highway 2 where they collided.

They exchanged gunfire and Stevenson, a 23-year member of the force and mother of two, was killed. The RCMP say Stevenson died a hero, sacrificing her life to protect the people of Nova Scotia.

The gunman then killed Joey Webber, who stopped to help after seeing the two crashed cruisers. The 36-year old father of three had been en route to buy furnace oil, and like the many other victims was unaware of any danger nearby.

The shooter stole Stevenson's police-issue pistol and lit the cruisers on fire before taking off in Webber's SUV.

Sunday: 11:26 a.m.

Half an hour later, police finally stopped their suspect at a busy gas station not far from Halifax's international airport.

He was driving a car stolen from his final victim, Gina Goulet. After fleeing from where the two cruisers burned, Wortman killed Goulet in her nearby home.

WATCH | Darcy Dobson says RCMP "failed" at providing information to keep public safe:

Goulet was a denturist who had twice battled cancer. She loved salsa dancing and fishing. Her beloved German Shepherd was shot but the dog survived.

When the gunman stole her car, the gas tank was almost empty. He soon headed to one of the area's busiest gas stations.

But as fate would have it, a member of the Emergency Response Team who was en route to try and stop the gunman had also pulled into the Big Stop in Enfield to get gas.

The RCMP officer recognized Wortman, and the gunman was shot and killed. Police later found five guns in his vehicle.

At 11:26 a.m on Sunday, 13 hours after it began, the rampage had ended.

The aftermath

In the months since the tragedy, the RCMP has offered few answers for families or the public. The force held five media conferences, the last in early June. Media organizations, including the CBC, have gone to court to try to gain access to search warrant documents.

In the early days after the shooting, RCMP said they had no files on Wortman. But police documents obtained by the CBC reveal the 51-year-old wasn't a stranger to police.

He was convicted of assaulting a teen in 2001 and investigated for threatening his parents in 2010.

The following year, Truro police received a tip that Wortman was mentally unstable, had firearms and threatened to kill a cop. In 2013, a neighbour in Portapique reported to police that Wortman was abusive towards his partner and had illegal weapons. None of these incidents resulted in charges and it's unclear to what extent police investigated.

"How in the hell is he not a red flag?" said Heather O'Brien's daughter Darcy Dobson. "It seems to me that a wealthy man with charisma got away with doing whatever the hell he wanted."

In the months since losing his wife, Nick Beaton has embarked on his own investigation, trying to piece together information about the shooter and what happened over those 13 hours.

"I tried to sit back so I could heal, so I could deal with it, and I can't," he said. "I need answers. There's too many questions, there's too many things not answered."

WATCH | Nick Beaton says "if RCMP had armed us with the information they had ... she'd have been safe":

In a meeting with investigators, he asked the Mounties to explain how they reached the conclusion that their suspect was dead.

"They couldn't answer it, they were going to look into it and get back to me," Beaton told The Fifth Estate. "I haven't heard nothing yet, it's been months.

"I can lay here and bawl the rest of my life, which I know Kristen wouldn't want, or fight."

Beaton is one of the named plaintiffs in the proposed class-action lawsuit against Wortman's estate. The families are also suing the RCMP and the province.

"We just want answers, we want the truth, full transparency," he said. "We want the RCMP to say we messed up, we made mistakes here, here and here we're learning from it and it's not going to happen again.

"It wasn't the men and women officers that day that I'm upset at, it's the force in general, it's the top brass, it's the people making the decisions."

He and other family members grew frustrated over the summer as calls for a public inquiry went unanswered.

On the same day Beaton and Dobson led a march of family members to the Bible Hill RCMP detachment in support of an inquiry, they learned the federal and provincial justice ministers would announce an independent review, but not the public inquiry they asked for.

Family and friends of victims, including Sean McLeod's daughters, Taylor Andrews, left, and Amielia McLeod, attend a march demanding an inquiry into the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia that killed 22 people, in Bible Hill, N.S., on July 22, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Family and friends of victims, including Sean McLeod's daughters, Taylor Andrews, left, and Amielia McLeod, attend a march demanding an inquiry into the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia that killed 22 people, in Bible Hill, N.S., on July 22, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Public outcry was swift and harsh, and within a week, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair backtracked and said an inquiry would go ahead. In October — days after the six-month anniversary of their loved ones deaths — family members finally got a timeline.

"I have often said this, if it was myself or one of my sisters, my brother, or my dad, [my mother] would have done everything I have done and more," Dobson said. She knows her mother would have settled for "nothing less than the truth."

"She would have demanded it, she'd have been worse than me," she said. "Everybody says you know, I am out there — and I am loud ... they would have been scared if she walked in the doors of that RCMP station because she wouldn't have taken no for an answer on anything."

The inquiry's final report is due by Nov. 1, 2022. Until then, families are left to grieve their loved ones without fully understanding how they came to lose them so violently.

"I know as much now as I knew in April or May," Tyler Blair said. "It's disgraceful.... We shouldn't have to fight and beg for answers."

With his parents gone, Blair now cares for his younger brothers and is running the family business. Although he and his father had talked about him taking it on eventually, it wasn't meant to happen this soon, this way.

"I'm just doing what I should do — what my father would want me to do."

With files from Linda Guerriero and Gillian Findlay

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Canadians.

If you have a tip about this or any other story, contact elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca or lisa.mayor@cbc.ca