A gunman disguised as a police officer went on a rampageacross the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, shooting people in their homes andsetting fires, leaving 16 people dead Sunday, in the deadliest such attack inthe country's history.
Officials said the suspected shooter was also dead. A policeofficer was among those killed. Several bodies were found inside and outsideone home in the small, rural town of Portapique, about 100 kilometres north ofHalifax what police called the first scene.
Bodies were also found at other locations. Authoritiesbelieve the shooter may have targeted his first victims but then beganattacking randomly.
Overnight, police began advising residents of the townalready on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic to lock their doors andstay in their basements. Several homes in the area were set on fire as well.
Police identified the man believed to be the shooter asGabriel Wortman, 51, who was thought to live part-time in Portapique.Authorities said he wore a police uniform at one point and made his car looklike a Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser.
Police first announced that they had arrested Wortman at agas station in Enfield, outside Halifax, but later said he had died. It was notclear how, and they did not explain further.
"This is one of the most senseless acts of violence inour province's history," said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
RCMP spokesman Daniel Brien confirmed that 16 people hadbeen killed in addition to the suspect. The dead officer was identified asConstable Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23-year veteran of the force.Another officer was also injured.
Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada. The countryoverhauled its gun-control laws after gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women andhimself at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. Before thisweekend's rampage, that had been the country's worst.
It is now illegal to possess an unregistered handgun or anykind of rapid-fire weapon in Canada. The country also requires training, apersonal risk assessment, two references, spousal notification and criminalrecord checks to purchase a weapon.
"As a country, in moments like these, we come togetherto support one another. Together we will mourn with the families of thevictims, and help them get through this difficult time," Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau said in a written news release.
While they believe the attack did not begin as random,police did not say what the initial motive was. RCMP Chief Superintendent ChrisLeather said many of the victims did not know the shooter.
"That fact that this individual had a uniform and apolice car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act,"Leather said. He added that police believe he acted alone.
Leather said they would investigate whether the attack hadanything to do with the coronavirus pandemic but no link has been found thusfar. At one point, there was an exchange of gunfire between the suspect andpolice, he said.
Late Sunday morning, there were half a dozen police vehiclesat the scene of the gas station where the suspect died. Yellow police tapesurrounded the gas pumps, and a large silver-colored SUV was beinginvestigated.
Cpl. Lisa Croteau, a spokeswoman with the provincial force,said police received a call about "a person with firearms" lateSaturday night, and the investigation "evolved into an active shootinginvestigation."
Christine Mills, a resident of the area, said it had been afrightening night for the small town, with armed officers patrolling thestreets. In the morning, helicopters flew overhead searching for the suspect.
"It's nerve-wracking because you don't know if somebodyhas lost their mind and is going to beat in your front door," she said.
Tom Taggart, a lawmaker who represents the Portapique areain the Municipality of Colchester, said the quiet community has been shaken.
"This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quietcommunity and the idea that this could happen in our community isunbelievable," Taggart said by phone from his home in nearby Bass River.
A Gabriel Wortman is listed as a denturist a person whomakes dentures in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, according to theDenturist Society of Nova Scotia website.
A suspect photo issued by the RCMP appears to be of the sameperson seen in video footage being interviewed about dentures by CTV Atlanticin 2014.
Mills also said that Wortman was known locally as someonewho divided his time between a residence in Halifax and a residence inPortapique.
Taggart said he didn't know Wortman well, but spoke to him afew times when he telephoned about municipal issues.
Taggart described knowing Wortman's "lovely bighome" on Portapique Beach Road.