Seventeen people are dead, including an RCMP officer, after 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman — who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser — went on a rampage across northern Nova Scotia over the weekend.
Police publicly identified Wortman about nine hours after an initial tweet around midnight Saturday, asking people to avoid the Portapique area and stay indoors as officers responded to a firearms complaint. Wortman was killed after police intercepted him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., on Sunday, and his death is being investigated by a police watchdog.
But who was he?
Investigators are continuing to piece together one of Canada’s deadliest mass killings, and its author, but snippets are beginning to emerge of the denturist-turned-killer.
Wortman, according to social media reports, originally hailed from Riverview, outside Moncton, New Brunswick. He attended Riverview High School, before heading on to Fredericton, and the University of New Brunswick.
After university, Wortman had moved into a career as a denturist, and ran the Atlantic Denture Clinic in Dartmouth, N.S., as well as one in Halifax. He is reported to have divided his time between the two areas.
Some Portapique residents who spoke with the the Canadian Press said they knew Wortman in passing as a part-time resident who owned properties in the community.
David George Crockett, who lives a three-minute drive from Portapique Beach Road, the area where the first 911 calls originated, said Wortman once fixed his teeth at his home in Portapique.
“I’m very surprised,” Crockett said. “I never thought he would do something like that.”
“From what I knew of him, he was quiet, gentle and very easy to talk to …. He was very nice. He kidded around a little bit. He seemed normal, not like someone who would do something like this.”
Crockett said the horrific news left him feeling overwhelmed, given the stress he and his family was already feeling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very depressing to see someone do something like this.”
In a 2014 CTV story that featured Wortman, he was seen giving free dentures to a cancer survivor who had lost all her teeth and couldn’t afford them.
“My heart went out to her,” Wortman told CTV 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.”
On social media, users who said they knew Wortman when he was younger struggled to match the heinous act with the person they knew.
Wortman’s 1986 entry in the Riverview High School Yearbook, which has been posted by many users to social media, said he was most likely to be seen performing wheelies on his dirtbike and skiing with his friends. He didn’t like the cold weather, the entry read, or English.
“Gabe’s future may include being an RCMP officer,” the entry reads.
“Wortman was a great friend and amazing person in High School. Always smiling. Always kind. This is nothing but shocking!” Lisa Brush wrote on Twitter.
According to the Chronicle Herald, Scott Balser, who said he was a high school friend of Wortman’s, wrote on Facebook:
“We never know what others go through in life that makes them make certain decisions. I am by no means defending his actions this weekend.
“It’s a very sad and tragic situation and my heart goes out to all the families involved. I’ve tried to live my life by this principle, ‘but for the grace of God, go I.’ We never know how we are going to react to a situation until we are in it.”
At least one social media user claimed Wortman had a fascination, when he was young, with air guns. Pierre Little told the Chronicle Herald via Twitter:
“We used to shoot his machine gun air pellet or BB gun, I can’t remember which, behind his house in Bridgedale. Quite a rare airgun for the eighties. He also was into bottlecaps with saltpeter stinkbombs.”
A one-time client of Wortman’s told the Chronicle Herald she got dentures from Wortman in September of last year, and all seemed well at that point. She said Wortman worked at his clinic with his common-law partner.
“He was nuts; I mean that in a good way. We were carrying on back and forth like we knew each other our whole lives,” the woman said.
“They seemed to get along fine, bantering with each other like you would with your good friends. They seemed like very nice people together, very happy people.”
“I’m stunned here, to tell you the truth. It’s often the last person you’d think of, but they always say that after something like this.”
A Portapique neighbour told the Canadian Press that he and Wortman were friends until the two had a falling out over a piece of nearby property.
The neighbour, who declined to give his name, said Wortman had burned an old shed that contained some property that belonged to the neighbour. The man said he was too overcome with emotion to say more about his relationship with Wortman or what might have motivated his rampage.
Tom Taggart, a councillor who represents the Portapique area in the Municipality of Colchester, said the quiet community is in shock.
“This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community, and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable,” Taggart told the Canadian Press.
Taggart said he didn’t know Wortman well, but spoke to him a few times when he telephoned about municipal issues, and described knowing Wortman’s “lovely big home” on Portapique Beach Road.