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Residents of a small town outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia — as well as across the country at large — are reeling after what has now been declared as the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history took place over the weekend.
Late Saturday, the small community of Portapique was terrorized by a lone gunman who killed 18 people, including one RCMP officer, and injured many others in a shooting spree.
The suspect was also later declared deceased, bringing the death toll to 19.
Though investigators are still trying to understand the potential motives behind the atrocity, police believe that the killer’s first victims were planned targets, and say that he disguised himself and his vehicle to appear as a member of the RCMP in order to gain access to their home.
The subsequent murders seemed to be “random in nature.”
Officials were instructing members of the public to lock their doors and hide in their basements as the active shooting situation continued from around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night early into Sunday morning.
Suspect Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old denturist who resides in the coastal town part-time, was confirmed dead after “an exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police” at a gas station 100 km away from Portapique, Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather told the Associated Press.
The force’s Twitter account had said the suspect was apprehended and in custody as of 10:40 a.m. on April 19 after a drawn-out search.
“Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and it will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come,” said RCMP Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman at a press conference on April 19. “What has unfolded overnight and into this morning is incomprehensible.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an official statement about what he called the “senseless violence in Nova Scotia,” saying that “as a country, in moments like these, we come together to support one another. Together we will mourn with the families of the victims, and help them get through this difficult time.”
Canada has not seen such a high death toll as the result of one crime since the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 were slain and another 14 were injured at a Montreal engineering school in an anti-feminist attack targeting women.
RCMP officer Heidi Stevenson, who had been on the national force for 23 years, is among the victim of the Portapique tragedy, while another member of the force is currently in hospital.
The investigation is ongoing.