A man pays his respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2020. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A man pays his respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2020. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

‘Multiple patients’: Recordings of first responders reveal chaos in Nova Scotia mass-shooting

Recordings show attempts to help the first victims amid burning homes in the village of Portapique, N.S.

New details are emerging about the chaos that ensued as police in rural Nova Scotia tried to capture a killer disguised as an RCMP officer — and first responders tried to help a rapidly growing list of victims.

The search for the suspect stretched from late Saturday night to Sunday morning, when the death toll rose to 22 as the gunman evaded police by driving in a car identical to an RCMP cruiser.

Audio recordings of first responders communicating on two-way radios provide a glimpse of their frantic attempts to help the first victims found Saturday at 10:40 p.m. amid burning homes in the village of Portapique, N.S.

On one of the recordings, stored on the Broadcastify website, first responders dispatched to the scene along Highway 2 tell the dispatcher they can see something burning in the distance.

“I’m seeing huge flames and smoke from where we are,” says one, minutes before the dispatcher says police have discovered a gunshot victim on Portapique Beach Road.

Within the next 20 minutes, the extent of the carnage comes into sharp focus as police call for more ambulances — twice.

“There possibly could be other victims down by the scene but police are slowly bringing people out,” the paramedic says in a steady, even tone that speaks of his training.

Then the pace of his speech quickens.

“There’s a person down there with a gun,” he says.

“They’re still looking for him. The patient we have got shot by him. He was just down there observing the fire, checking out the fire. So there could be other patients around the fire that could be gone already, but we’re not sure.”

He indicates there is confusion in the darkness as police search for the killer.

“It’s very vague what’s going on down there, but there is for sure multiple patients down there,” he says.

By 11:20 p.m., the first responders are still unsure of what is going on.

“Do we know if they’ve caught the assailant?” one asks over the radio.

The dispatcher responds: ”No not for sure … They’re bringing victims out to that intersection from the actual scene. But no, they don’t know if they’ve caught him. I don’t know.”

It’s unclear exactly how many people were killed along Portapique Beach Road, which includes many seasonal and permanent homes along the picturesque north shore of Cobequid Bay.

Police confirmed Wednesday that the suspect managed to escape from a perimeter they had set up around the rural area, but they didn’t realize he was gone until some time between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sunday when a witness revealed details about the fake police car.

At 8:02 a.m., police issued an alert on Twitter saying they were looking for an active shooter in the Portapique area.

Over a 12-hour period, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman of Halifax killed 22 people — some he knew, others he met randomly as he fled.

His victims include an RCMP officer, two nurses, two correctional officers, a family of three, a teacher and some of his neighbours in Portapique.

Heavily armed RCMP officers fatally shot him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 90 kilometres south of Portapique at around 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.

The motive for the slayings remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia’s police watchdog is investigating why two RCMP officers started shooting at a fire hall on Sunday morning even though the suspect is not believed to have been in the vicinity.

Pat Curran, interim director of the Serious Incident Response Team, said the officers fired their weapons around 10:30 a.m. at the Onslow-Belmont Fire Hall, near Truro.

The fire hall is about a half-hour drive from Portapique.

The Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade posted a message on Facebook saying the building was being used as refuge for evacuees from around Portapique Beach Road when it was pelted by bullets on Sunday morning.

The Facebook post, which has since been deleted, says the gunfire caused considerable damage to the fire hall but no one was injured. The brigade, which declined a request for comment, confirmed on Facebook that the post was meant to clarify Sunday’s events and not fuel “conspiracy theories” about the shooter.

Police say the investigation into the killings is complex because there are 16 crime scenes spread over a wide stretch of northern Nova Scotia. A total of five structures were set on fire, though the exact sequence of events remains unclear.

Police said the gunman acted alone during his violent rampage, but investigators said they are trying to determine whether anyone assisted him before the shooting began.

— With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Adina Bresge

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Google Maps)
Osoyoos Credit Union staff member tests positive for COVID-19

The credit union made the announcement Dec. 1

Elkhart Gas Station, located on Highway 97C about 60 kilometres west of Peachland, opened in November 2020. (Google maps)
The Okanagan Connector now has a gas station

The highway previously ran for over 117 kilometres without a place to fuel up

A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov - AFP)
Interior Health reports 66 new COVID-19 infections

570 cases are active; 18 in hospital

The Hughes’ Grinch was stolen from their front yard Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Santa suit the Grinch is wearing is 50 years old and has sentimental value. It was once worn by April Hughes’ dad. (Hughes photo)
Stolen Grinch ‘irreplaceable’

The Hughes have had a Christmas display for 25 years on Grandy Avenue in Penticton

Janet Austin, the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, not seen, swears in Premier John Horgan during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Horgan says he will look to fill gaps in the federal government’s sick-pay benefits program aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. premier says province prepared to patch holes in new federal sick-pay benefits

Horgan said workers should not be denied pay when they are preventing COVID-19’s spread

An Enderby restaurant and pub was shut down Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, 2020 as a precaution after a guest reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. (Howard Johnson photo)
North Okanagan pub reopens after COVID-19 scare

After a guest reportedly tested positive for the virus, staff test results came back negative

Alix Longland
Trauma resources ready for North Okanagan refugees

Family Resource Centre working with UBCO social work grad to reach out to local refugees

Midway RCMP’s Cpl. Phil Peters spoke at Greenwood’s city council meeting Monday, Nov. 23. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
B.C. Mountie builds fire to warm suspect with hypothermia prior to rescue

Cpl. Phil Peters said the civilian helped police track, apprehend and eventually rescue the suspect

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Revelstoke COVID-19 cluster linked to non-essential travel: Horgan

There have been 46 cases of COVID-19 in the community

Students at Lavington Elementary crammed a car full of non-perishables for those in the community facing food insecurity. Spearheaded by teacher January Peebles (left), the donations were picked up by Give LUCK founder Myrika Godard, who works to connect donors with donees in the North Okanagan. (Give LUCK photo)
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

(Jennifer Smith - Morning Star file photo)
Three-car crash ties up Vernon intersection

One person transported by Ambulance for non-life threatening injuries

Most Read