Phones buzzed with a rare emergency alert across the Atlantic Canadian province of Nova Scotia earlier this month: COVID-19 is deadly. Stop the spread now. STAY HOME.
The number of coronavirus patients in the province was hovering below 400 cases out of a total population of one million residents. The alert was sent by the Emergency Management Office on April 10, 2020, a day marking the announcement of a second death from the virus.
Unlike the most populous Canadian province of Ontario where Amber Alerts are such a common occurrence that residents are often warned against dialing 911 to complain about the intrusion, Emergency Alerts are rare in Nova Scotia: The last time the system was used was in November 2019. It was a test broadcast.
On the night of April 18th, 2020, Gabriel Wortman donned the uniform of an RCMP officer and began the deadliest shooting massacre in Canadian history.
No alerts were issued.
Portapique, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotians measure distance by drive time, and the small town of Portapique is about an hour and a half outside of the capital city of Halifax.
On the hour's drive north on the 102 to Truro, you'll pass the Stanfield International Airport, Enfield, Milton, Shubenacadie, Brookfield, Onslow.
On the half hour drive west to Portapique, you'll pass near Debert and Glenholme.
On Saturday night, residents in Portapique noticed fires, and 911 operators received “multiple” calls reporting gunshots “just after 11:30pm” local time.
At 11:32pm local time, the Nova Scotia RCMP Twitter account cautioned people in the area to stay inside and lock their doors:
51-year-old denturist Gabe Wortman would spend the next 12 hours evading police and killing innocent people as he traveled from Portapique, through Truro, to Milford where he was reported in a Chevy at 11:24am before heading south until he was shot and killed in Enfield.
Unless you were constantly refreshing the @RCMPNS Twitter feed, you wouldn't have known to avoid the “armed & dangerous” “white man, bald, 6’2-6’3 with green eyes.”
Enfield, Nova Scotia
One of the earliest full news reports on the massacre was published on Sunday morning by the CBC, reporting an active shooter with “multiple victims.”
Around 11:40am, RCMP reported that Wortman was “now in custody” at the local landmark Irving Big Stop in Enfield, about a half-hour's drive from downtown Halifax.
It wasn't until 3pm that Global News published the first credible piece confirming deaths: “Multiple people, including one member of the RCMP” had lost their lives.
At 6:00pm, the RCMP finally stepped out for their press conference to announce the death of Const. Heidi Stevenson and at least ten more people.
Twitter “superior”, Premier said his staff weren't asked to send Alert
Gabe Wortman killed 18 people at 16 different crime scenes during a 12 hour window spanning multiple communities.
Could any of these deaths have been prevented if the Emergency Management Office [EMO] had broadcast a push notification warning residents to stay inside, to lock their doors, to not trust the 6’2 white man wearing an RCMP uniform while driving a mock RCMP car painted with the number #28B11?
When questioned on using social media to communicate the threat of a suspected mass shooter, the RCMP stated that “Twitter was used because it was an unfolding situation that was updated many times:”
“We had relied on Twitter... because of the instantaneous manner we can communicate. We're aware we have thousands of followers in Nova Scotia and felt it was a way — a superior way — to communicate this ongoing threat.”
At a press conference earlier today, CTV's Natasha Pace quizzed Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil on why the Emergency Alerts weren't used:
“[The Emergency Management Organization] needs to be ordered to put [an Emergency Alert] out, Public Health ordered us to put the COVID one out, we're happy to support them, we had people in and ready but we were not asked to put out that alert on the weekend.”
We don't know Wortman's motive, and we only know the names of some of this victims.
But we do deserve to know who is responsible for failing to warn the people of Nova Scotia that there was an active, armed and dangerous shooter on the loose.