Since high school, Gabriel Wortman, a denturist with multiple Nova Scotia clinics, had shown an obsession for policing, buying law-enforcement memorabilia and boasting about his hobby of refurbishing old police cruisers.
Mr. Wortman, 51, died Sunday in a shoot-out with police after going on a rampage that spanned two days and killed at least 16 victims in multiple locations across the province. It was the largest mass shooting in Canadian history.
During the search for Mr. Wortman, police distributed an image of what appeared to be an RCMP cruiser, warning that the suspect may be driving the vehicle and wearing an RCMP uniform.
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, criminal operations officer for Nova Scotia RCMP, said the impersonation demonstrated a level of planning.
“The fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act,” he said.
Mr. Wortman owned the Atlantic Denture Clinic in Dartmouth. He was quoted in a July, 2014, news story after gifting a set of dentures to a Halifax cancer survivor who had lost her teeth as a result of medication she was taking.
“My heart went out to her,” he told CTV News at the time. “There’s so many ways for people to get dentures, but it seems like the people who really need them are the people who are getting left behind.”
Neighbours told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Wortman was known to struggle with alcohol use and that his business had been shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nova Scotia ordered the closing of dental clinics to all but emergency procedures in mid-March.
Records show that he owns two large properties on Portapique Beach Road, where the killing started. The Portapique community is about 120 kilometres north of Halifax.
Nathan Staples, who lives outside the nearby community of Great Village, said Mr. Wortman was obsessed with the police, and that his home in Portapique was a “shrine” to the RCMP. A few months ago, he went to Mr. Staples’s house, asking whether he would sell his used police cruiser sitting in the front lawn.
“He was one of those freaky guys, he was really into police memorabilia,” Mr. Staples said.
Billy Swiminer wrote on Facebook that Mr. Wortman made his dentures in January, and spoke of his hobby of buying old police cruisers at auction.
“He showed me pics of a cruiser that he redid,” Mr. Swiminer wrote. “It’s exactly like an actual RCMP police car, and he has the uniform to go with it!”
Blaize Jones shared a similar memory in reply to a post sharing details that Mr. Wortman may be driving what appears to be an RCMP vehicle and wearing an RCMP uniform.
“I do remember him saying he buys old police vehicles from the auction and fixes them up,” wrote Mr. Jones, who said Mr. Wortman worked on his dentures in February. “He had two when I went to meet him at his Halifax location to pick up my new dentures.”
Mr. Wortman graduated from Riverview High School in New Brunswick in 1986. His yearbook said that he was often seen “cruisin’ around on one wheel of his Honda XR 500R,” and that his likes included skiing and time spent with friends.
“His dislikes include cold weather and English,” the yearbook said. "Gabe’s future may include being an RCMP officer.”
Instead, he studied to be a mortician in college, but eventually became a denturist – running a business that made him a millionaire, according to neighbours.
Chief Supt. Leather said Sunday he was not aware of Mr. Wortman being known to police, or having a history of violence.
With reports from Colin Freeze and Alex Cyr
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