The gunman behind the worst mass shooting in Canadian history grew up in violence and dysfunction – including at the age of 7, when he was handed a loaded .22 rifle by his father and told to shoot him, according to his uncle, a former Mountie.
That story was shared with police by Chris Wortman, a former RCMP officer who was interviewed 10 days after the mass shooting in April, 2020. A transcript of that interview was released publicly this week as part of the inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting that claimed 22 people’s lives.
“He had a difficult upbringing,” Mr. Wortman told RCMP interviewer Sergeant Corey Kilborn, in a lengthy interview about his nephew. “There’s a lot of dysfunction in the family, but his is really bad. His father is … maybe his father should never have been a father, is the best thing to say.”
Seven years his senior, Mr. Wortman said he was close to Gabriel Wortman when he was younger. He described him as a “strange little guy” and child who had no friends and a dangerous and unstable father. Gabriel’s only sibling had been given up for adoption as an infant, and “he knew” he should never have children of his own because of his violent temper, his uncle said.
The uncle told police his nephew scared him, and he’d long suspected he was capable of taking someone’s life.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Mr. Wortman said, a week after his nephew went on his rampage. “I knew he was always capable of killing somebody or serious harm, but not to this extent.”
As an adult, Gabriel was abusive and controlling toward his common-law wife, Lisa Banfield, the uncle said. The former Mountie described how his nephew frequented prostitutes on his many trips to the Dominican Republic, and would press his spouse into getting liposuction and plastic surgery.
When he would abuse her, Gabriel would use his money to make up for it, his uncle said.
“It wasn’t a good situation for Lisa, let’s put it that way. She was trapped. You know, and he would buy her a Mercedes to smooth things over,” his uncle said.
It’s expected Ms. Banfield will finally share her story after the public inquiry resumes on March 28. While no date has been set for her much-anticipated testimony, she’s now been cleared by her lawyers to co-operate with the inquiry after her charges for providing her spouse with ammunition were diverted this week to Nova Scotia’s restorative justice program.
The RCMP interview with the uncle reveals more details about the gunman’s life – including that he was “almost a career criminal,” a manipulative, money-obsessed person who learned as a young man how to steal, and later smuggle motorcycles and weapons across the U.S. border. The gunman bragged to his family that he paid his way through the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton by selling smuggled cigarettes and alcohol to fellow students, his uncle said.
While Gabriel was an alcoholic, and had no close relationships apart from Ms. Banfield, he never sought help for any kind of mental illness, his uncle said. His only friendship that his uncle was aware of was with a gay Fredericton lawyer named Tom Evans, a man many years his elder, who left the gunman multiple properties when he died.
“Gabriel’s idea is if I’m making tons of money, I’m doing okay,” Mr. Wortman said. “I’d like to hear a psychiatrist’s impression of this guy. He had a lot of emotional … psychological issues.”
His uncle also suggested the gunman clearly spent a lot of time preparing for his attack, and wasn’t someone who just snapped.
“That was part of his plan,” Mr. Wortman told the RCMP. “The planning that must’ve went into that would have been phenomenal for him to systematically go down the list of people and to have the uniform and to go to the trouble of having the decals made.”
As a former Mountie, the uncle said he took it personally that his nephew killed so many people while dressed in the clothes of the RCMP, while driving a look-alike police vehicle.
“It’s almost like he’s mocking me,” he told the RCMP. “I’m sure he wasn’t, but that’s how I felt, you know, that to put on a uniform and get into a police car with all the proper decals on it.”
The inquiry expects to hear from more RCMP officers once it resumes at the end of the month, including constables Stuart Beselt, Adam Merchant and Aaron Patton, the first three to arrive on the scene in Portapique on April 18, 2020. The officers’ union had argued that forcing them to testify would be too retraumatizing; the commission rejected that.
The commission also said senior RCMP leadership – including national Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Lee Bergerman, Commanding Officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, Chief Superintendent Chris Leather and Superintendent Darren Campbell – will be subpoenaed to testify at the inquiry.
Missteps by the RCMP in their response to the mass shooting have been under the microscope throughout the process. This week, the commission released the transcript of an interview with Allan Carroll, the RCMP’s former district commander for Colchester County, who told investigators he didn’t ask for a public warning to be sent out on the emergency Alert Ready system during the manhunt because he “didn’t know it existed.”
The commission will produce a final report in November, focusing on recommendations to help reduce similar tragedies in the future.
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