N.S. gunman’s weapons came from California, Maine, Winnipeg, court documents reveal

The man who killed 22 people in rural Nova Scotia in April carried two semi-automatic pistols from Maine, semi-automatic rifles from gun shops in California and Winnipeg, and had boxes of ammunition within arm’s length, according to newly released court documents.

Gabriel Wortman killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers while masquerading as a Mountie on April 18 and 19 in a rampage that started in Portapique, N.S., and ended 13 hours and some 195 kilometres later in Enfield, N.S. 

Investigators found five firearms in the vehicle the gunman was driving before an RCMP officer shot and killed him at a gas station. Details about the weapons are included in seven search warrant documents, portions of which were first released in May after CBC and other media organizations applied to the courts for access to the information, which is typically publicly available in Canada.

A Nova Scotia judge agreed Wednesday to make some of the previously redacted information available, including details about the calibres of the firearms used and the fact RCMP searched the gunman’s properties for grenades.  

The documents also show Halifax Regional Police went to the home of a woman in Halifax and provided her and another person with protection during the manhunt after Lisa Banfield, the gunman’s spouse, told police Wortman was heading to the city to “get” them.

Twenty-two people died before police shot and killed the gunman. (CBC)

Most of the newly unsealed information has already become public, including Banfield’s name. She was recently charged with providing the gunman with ammunition

The National Post first reported the specific details of the weapons Nov. 20 after obtaining a briefing note prepared for the prime minister after the shooting.

According to the court documents, the rifles the gunman carried included a Colts Law Enforcement-brand carbine 5.56 calibre with a selector switch set to fire. The shooter had a shoulder strap for the weapon as well as three over-capacity magazines, which each held 30 additional rounds. 

Magazines are the storage areas for ammunition that is fed into a gun. Under Canadian law, there are limits on the number of cartridges for semi-automatic rifles and pistols; generally anything that holds more than five cartridges for a rifle and 10 for a pistol make it a prohibited weapon. 

RCMP investigators search for evidence on April 23, 2020, at the location where Const. Heidi Stevenson was killed along the highway in Shubenacadie, N.S. Police say the man who went on a murderous rampage through five Nova Scotia communities was likely using unlicensed firearms, and investigators have been trying to find out how he obtained illegal weapons. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Sgt. Larry Peyton determined the carbine rifle came from California, according to an application the RCMP made to search the gunman’s properties in Portapique. The documents don’t explain how exactly it was smuggled into Nova Scotia. 

Peyton found a second rifle, a Ruger Mini 14 .223 calibre, came from Winnipeg. It was also obtained illegally since police say the 51-year-old gunman didn’t have a firearms licence. It’s not clear from the documents who purchased the weapon or how he got a hold of it. 

Investigators found a round in the chamber of that rifle and three magazines, including two that were over capacity and could hold 40 rounds and another that held five rounds, according to the search warrant documents.

The documents also detail that one of the pistols, a Glock 23 .40 calibre, was loaded and had an over-capacity magazine. Investigators found casings from the gun in the vehicle.

A second pistol, a Ruger P89 9-mm calibre, had a round in the chamber and the safety was off. 

Both handguns were adapted with laser point sights triggered by hand pressure. Investigators determined the pistols came from Maine — one from a gun shop and another from a gun owner.

In this April 19, 2020, file photo, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers surround a gas station in Enfield, N.S., in search of a suspect during the shooting rampage. (Tim Krochak/Canadian Press)

Peyton, who traced the origins of Wortman’s guns, found all the over-capacity magazines came from outside Canada as well. He said while searching the gunman’s property on Portland Street in Dartmouth, where Wortman lived and operated his denture clinic, the investigator found a business card for the owner of Bob and Tom’s Gun Shop in Mattawamkeag, Maine.

CBC reached Bob Berg, who said he sold his gun shop two or three years ago after he had a stroke and could no longer operate it.

Berg said two RCMP officers and one police officer from Maine visited him to ask questions about the investigation, but he did not know anything about how his business card ended up in Canada. Berg said he sold guns only to people living in the state of Maine when he was operating his business.

The RCMP have never publicly released the calibres of the firearms used in the rampage, but have said determining how the gunman obtained the illegal weapons is a key part of their investigation, now into its eighth month. 

They have previously said three came from the U.S. and one came from the estate of someone the shooter knew in Canada. The fifth weapon was Const. Heidi Stevenson’s service pistol. The shooter stole it after killing her in Shubenacadie, N.S. 

While the gunman may not have had a firearms licence, several people RCMP interviewed mentioned his familiarity with guns. 

A man originally from New Brunswick told investigators he and Wortman had gone to gun shows and spent time together shooting in Maine

Search warrant documents show the Canada Border Services Agency determined the gunman crossed the U.S.-Canada border in Woodstock, N.B., 15 times over a two-year period, with his last return to Canada on March 6, 2020.

The newly unsealed documents also reference a statement a carpenter gave to police about the shooter having two crates of grenades that he obtained in the U.S., a “stockpile of guns” and ammunition the shooter stored in cases under his large deck in Portapique. 

The gunman’s cottage in Portapique was destroyed in a fire he set, but a large deck along the shore was mostly intact. Pictured is the area under the structure. One witness told police the gunman stored grenades in a crate under the deck. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The man told police he didn’t have any knowledge or involvement in the April murders.

The same man told police he’d built hidden compartments on Wortman’s properties and once saw grenades on a bench in the gunman’s garage. He is the same person who claimed the gunman smuggled drugs into Portapique from Maine and had spoken of getting rid of bodies. 

The RCMP have said despite followup interviews and property searches, the force could not corroborate that Wortman had committed prior murders, burned bodies or imported drugs

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

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