The spouse of the shooter who killed 22 people in a horrific rampage across rural Nova Scotia two years ago says fear kept her from reporting her husband’s violent behaviour and illegal weapons – and that she’s still worried someone might attack her if she’s recognized in public.
Lisa Banfield, speaking publicly for the first time since the mass shooting in April, 2020, struggled on Friday to maintain her composure, as she described to an inquiry how she no longer feels safe leaving her home. She was referencing the simmering anger in her province – some of which has been directed at her after her deceased partner, Gabriel Wortman, went on a 13-hour killing spree while dressed as Mountie and driving a fake patrol car.
Testifying before the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), Ms. Banfield said she understands the raw emotion among families who lost loved ones, and stressed she had nothing to do with their murders. Many, however, didn’t hear her because they had already walked out in protest.
“Because of all that’s out there, I feel like somebody could attack me or come at me or my family,” she said. “It’s so hard, the fact that people think we would have anything to do with this. Our family feels for all those people, and we’re not angry that they’re angry.”
Ms. Banfield, along with her brother and brother in-law, was charged by the RCMP shortly after the attack with purchasing and providing the perpetrator with ammunition used in his rampage. The Crown later determined there was “no public interest” in sending the case to trial, saying Ms. Banfield had no knowledge of the shooter’s plans, and referred her to Nova Scotia’s restorative-justice program.
With her two sisters by her side for support on Friday, Ms. Banfield told those gathered inside a Halifax hotel conference room that the perpetrator “seemed like the perfect guy” when they first met at a bar in 2001. She described how their relationship soon turned to one of violence, intimidation and manipulation.
Ms. Banfield was not required to face cross-examination from lawyers of victims’ families, a decision by the MCC that sparked a backlash among those who felt there were holes in the statements she originally gave to police, including how she fled from the shooter and hid in the woods in the early hours of the attack. The commission defended the move, saying Ms. Banfield has already been traumatized enough – and cross-examination is not always the best way to get to the truth.
Pressed by MCC lawyer Gillian Hnatiw on Mr. Wortman’s behaviour over their 19-year relationship, Ms. Banfield’s testimony was at times difficult and dramatic. She described how her partner beat her in 2003 in front of witnesses, and she explained why she lied to police about his guns when they showed up at her door a few years later.
She said she knew it was illegal for him to have guns without a firearms licence, but never thought about reporting him to the police. A few times, during fights, he pointed a gun at her head to intimidate her, she said.
“He said he could blow off my head,” she said. “I was scared of what he might do. Grown men knew he had those guns, and they were scared of him, so I thought ‘What am I going to do?’”
When neighbour Brenda Forbes reported another assault to the RCMP in 2013, when the shooter knocked Ms. Banfield to the ground and began choking her, the Mounties never followed up with her for questioning, she testified.
Ms. Banfield described how she covered for her spouse in June, 2010, when police were called to their home in Dartmouth after he fired into the wall and threatened to kill his parents. She recalled telling an officer that her husband had left and didn’t have any weapons in the house because she was worried he’d begin shooting if the officer searched the home. Another time, she heard him claim to an RCMP officer that he only had a “musket” and an antique gun filled with wax in his cottage in Portapique, N.S., after a complaint about his firearm collection.
Ms. Banfield also testified that Mr. Wortman told her the replica RCMP patrol car he was building was “just for show” and that he planned to put the names of fallen Mounties on the hood. She said she never imagined anyone would use a vehicle like that as part of a mass killing.
She described how he collected police uniforms, equipment and handcuffs, and carried a fake ambulance badge and RCMP business card that he would flash to get out of speeding tickets and discounts at hotels on trips to the United States.
Her husband also bragged about driving at high speed in the passing lane on the highway to Portapique, and enjoyed watching people pull over, mistaking him for a real police officer with his decommissioned police vehicle and reflective vest, Ms. Banfield said.
“He got a thrill off of thinking they thought he was a police officer,” she said.
Ms. Banfield said she didn’t know why the perpetrator targeted certain neighbours during his rampage, or drove long distances to murder others.
She recalled a violent assault she suffered in 2003, when he attacked her after she tried to leave a party at a lake north of Portapique. After beating her, someone called police and he was driven away in the back of an RCMP police cruiser – but was taken back to his cottage instead of being arrested and charged, Ms. Banfield said.
Asked why she didn’t report the assault to police, Ms. Banfield replied: “That’s the first time anybody hit me, and I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble. I just thought, ‘I’m walking away.’”
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