Work on cruiser used in N.S. mass shooting began 9 months before rampage, court documents reveal

Newly unsealed search warrant documents related to the Nova Scotia mass shooting are shedding light on how the gunman created the replica RCMP vehicle he used. 

On April 18 and 19 of this year, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people — including neighbours, strangers and an RCMP officer — and burned homes belonging to three couples he killed. Two men who were shot survived. The gunman travelled about 195 kilometres over a period of 13 hours before RCMP killed him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. 

During most of the rampage that started in the tiny community of Portapique, N.S., the 51-year-old denturist drove a decommissioned police vehicle that he had bought through a federal government auction site on June 27, 2019 for $10,990, according to RCMP Sgt. Angela Hawryluk, who wrote the search warrant applications.

During a news conference in April, RCMP said the gunman bought the cruiser in the fall of 2019

Though it would’ve been plain white and stripped of its accessories when the gunman purchased it, the documents released Monday show that for months, he worked to make it look identical to an actual RCMP cruiser.

He installed a push bar on the front bumper on Aug. 24, 2019, and emailed someone to say the car was a bigger job than he expected and it was his first time doing the work. The recipient’s name was redacted.  

Even prior to purchasing that exact car, Wortman appeared to be making plans for a replica.

“Are you fellows able to do a complete decal set for an RCMP Ford Taurus sedan?” he wrote in a June 10, 2019 email to an American company, according to the search warrant documents.

The company responded the following day that it was passing on the job and getting away from custom orders.

He ended up getting the decals far closer to home, at a sign shop in Truro, N.S. RCMP have said one of the shop’s employees, Peter Griffon, printed the decals for Wortman without his boss’s knowledge. 

Griffon was living in Portapique on parole in April after serving time for drug offences linked to organize crime. After initially lying to RCMP about printing the decals, the Parole Board of Canada ruled he violated the conditions of his release and sent him back to prison

After the mass shooting, RCMP released security camera footage of the car the shooter drove that was captured on the morning of April 19. Most police vehicles in Nova Scotia do not have a push bar on their front bumpers. (RCMP)

RCMP went on to obtain a search warrant to examine Griffon’s phone records and found he corresponded with Wortman a number of times via email and had photos of a police cruiser saved.

Griffon first sent Wortman multiple photos of an RCMP cruiser with decals on it at the end of July 2019. The photos were taken in a garage but it’s unclear from the court documents if they were of an actual cruiser. Just before Christmas, he sent a photo of lights on top of a cruiser. 

A month before the massacre, Wortman wrote to Griffon saying “beers on Fridays” were suspended due to COVID-19. In a March 16 email, he assured Griffon, who was facing a layoff, that there would be plenty of odd jobs around his properties.

The morning of April 18, Wortman wrote Griffon saying he was going on a drive to celebrate his anniversary but they planned to work together the following day. Griffon was splitting wood for him in Portapique. 

Shooter claimed cruiser was for parade

Summaries of interviews police conducted with people who knew the gunman show that Griffon wasn’t the only person aware that he was working on a replica car.

Aaron Tuck, his wife, Jolene Oliver, and their 17-year-old daughter, Emily, lived in Portapique and were among the victims on April 18. 

Tuck’s best friend, whose name is redacted in the court documents, said he saw a white police cruiser and a package of decals in Wortman’s garage at some point in 2019.

During the 2019 visit, Wortman asked Tuck and his friend for help moving a chair and told them “he was fixing up the car to use in parades,” according to the court documents. He also explained to them he was buying accessories for the vehicle online.

The faces of the 22 victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting. (CBC)

While they were at his garage in Portapique, Tuck’s friend said Wortman showed off a police uniform as well as something that went with a holster and belt. The exact word is redacted. 

Tuck’s friend said he’d heard Wortman liked to work on motorcycles in the garage that he’d outfitted with a big bay door and a bar. But he said he’d also heard that “Gabriel would terrorize people” while drinking, according to the court documents. He’d also tried to buy the Tuck’s property for far less than they hoped to sell it. 

Other people who spoke to police have described the gunman as violent, paranoid and controlling

Gunman had pandemic concerns

RCMP have previously said they believe fears about COVID-19 led Wortman to stockpile cash, food and fuel.

The shooter made reference to not being optimistic about the virus in emails released Monday.

The RCMP summary said Wortman wrote to someone that once money runs out people will become desperate and need guns. “Thank god we are well armed,” he wrote. The name of the person he was emailing is redacted. 

Several people who have spoken to RCMP mentioned Wortman’s familiarity with guns.

In the newly unsealed documents, a man originally from New Brunswick told police that he and Wortman had gone to gun shows together and spent time together shooting in Maine. Another person told RCMP that Wortman was known to fire his gun into the ocean. 

4 former cruisers

The car Wortman used during the shootings was one of four former cruisers he had purchased in recent years. 

Through his company, Berkshire Broman Corp., he also bought a 2013 Ford Taurus from an auction on the federal procurement site for $2,998 in July 2019. He took possession of that car — which was also previously owned by the RCMP — on Oct. 2, 2019. It was parked in Dartmouth during the shootings. 

Police found two more former police cruisers burned at his Portapique properties. He purchased one of those cruisers in March 2019. 

The RCMP investigation continues nearly seven months after the mass shootings. Investigators have said determining how the gunman obtained the illegal weapons he used, the uniform he wore and whether he had help are key parts of the investigation. 

So far, no one is facing charges. 

RCMP believe the gunman wore parts of an authentic RCMP uniform during a deadly shooting rampage around rural areas of Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

Vehicle accessories bought online

The documents released Monday pertain to a request the RCMP made to search the gunman’s Amazon account. 

In her sworn affidavit, Sgt. Hawryluk said the warrant pertains to murder, attempt to commit murder, weapons trafficking, unauthorized importation of firearms, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to import firearms.

Through search warrants, the RCMP also obtained information from PayPal Canada showing that between March 2019 and November 2019, Wortman spent at least $3,477 USD buying items, many of which appeared to relate to police car retrofits. 

Some of the items he paid for during that time period included a police push bumper, two central consoles, rear window armour bars, a “prisoner transport partition” and an LED light bar. Most of these purchases date from late March 2019 to early April 2019 and were meant for police vehicles. 

Other items Wortman purchased using a credit card included a gun rack and patches or decals featuring police themes such as the “thin blue line” and the Canadian flag. 

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