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RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell provides an update of the Nova Scotia shootings at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S., on April 28, 2020.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia RCMP say they believe the gunman responsible for Canada’s deadliest mass killing slipped away from police just minutes after they arrived in Portapique, N.S., by driving through a farmer’s field.

Superintendent Darren Campbell, speaking Tuesday in an update into the investigation, said officers arrived at the rural beachside community at 10:26 p.m. on April 18. It’s now believed the gunman, who by that point had killed 13 of his neighbours, sneaked away less than 10 minutes later, driving a mock police car he’d bought a few months earlier.

After arriving at the scene in Portapique more than 20 minutes after the first 911 call, RCMP spent hours thinking they had the suspect contained, when he was actually hiding in the community of Debert, N.S. He continued his rampage from there early in the morning on April 19, killing another nine people across rural Nova Scotia before he was killed by police at a gas station outside of Halifax before noon.

Police revealed the gunman narrowly missed being caught leaving Portapique as part of the most detailed timeline released yet into the investigation.

A man who'd already killed 13 people in Portapique, N.S., managed to escape the community just minutes after the first police arrived at the scene.

The Canadian Press

Police have identified 435 witnesses, sifted through hours of surveillance footage and are getting help from the Canada Border Services Agency as they probe how the gunman obtained long guns they believe came from the United States.

Supt. Campbell also revealed the gunman had disputes with some of the people he killed, that Nova Scotia RCMP are reviewing the emergency alert system along with the province and Canadian police chiefs association, and that the killer had amassed a significant collection of weapons and ammunition, including what some witnesses described as grenades.

“Though the gunman will never stand trial, we have a duty to complete this investigation by the same standards that we would have if he were standing trial,” Supt. Campbell said. “There are many more interviews to come, and we expect that witness list to grow.”

RCMP say the gunman also had five police-style vehicles – four of them former police cars bought legally through government auctions, and a fifth was a non-police vehicle bought last fall from another source, and outfitted to look like a real RCMP cruiser, with a light bar and authentic-looking decals.

The killer, driving this look-alike police car, was able to escape through a field after police arrived because the scene was so chaotic, the superintendent said. The rural area, spread over woodland and fields more than four square kilometres in size, was littered with bodies and homes on fire, he said.

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This photo showing an area the gunman travelled in a replica RCMP vehicle in the Debert, N.S. area is displayed at a media briefing RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S., April 28, 2020.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Supt. Campbell added that investigators do not believe the gunman, a 51-year-old denturist, had any help from former RCMP officers, including one in his family, when it came to gathering his collection of weapons, police uniforms or vehicles.

He also clarified a previous statement about the first incident in the killer’s rampage – a domestic assault on his common-law wife, who escaped from the gunman on the night of April 18 and is now helping police with their investigation.

“I think I used the word ‘catalyst'... to describe the first victim in a series of violent events," he said. “I don’t want to be misunderstood that the victim had any blame in relation to what occurred on those awful days.”

While he said he wasn’t aware of any evidence that suggested misogyny, or hatred of women, played a role in the massacre – pointing out 13 men were either killed or injured by the gunman – he said RCMP are trying to learn if the gunman had a pattern of domestic abuse. That’s based on incidents that may not have been previously reported to police, he said.

“We have spoken to witnesses who have provided us with information about prior assaults,” Supt. Campbell said.

What is known is some of the people killed had disagreements with the gunman, he said. Police are still trying to understand all of those relationships as they probe the man’s possible motive for the killings.

“There were individuals who had disputes with the gunman over a certain period of time, and it appears to be a lengthy period of time,” he said. “That appears to be associates, business partners and family members.”

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