The final victim of Nova Scotia’s mass shooting was worried she could be a target of the gunman being sought by police, a man who was a fellow denturist and who knew where she lived in Shubenacadie, N.S.
The Mass Casualty Commission conducting the public inquiry examining the killings presented its findings related to Gina Goulet’s death at a hearing Wednesday in Halifax.
On the morning of April 19, 2020, Goulet and her daughter, Amelia Butler, had been texting back and forth, exchanging what they’d learned about the situation in the community of Portapique, N.S., where they heard people had been murdered the night before.
They shared the latest about the movements of the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, including an RCMP tweet that he was driving a replica police cruiser. Goulet, a denturist for 27 years who worked out of her home, knew Wortman, who ran a denture clinic in Dartmouth, N.S.
On the morning she was killed, Goulet told her daughter she was on edge knowing he was on the loose. Another denturist had reached out, suggesting she lock her doors, and Goulet asked her daughter to keep her phone close in case she needed to call.
She also urged her daughter to stay home and to “wait till they catch him” before going grocery shopping. Butler responded that it was hard to know where he could be headed.
“Haha as long as not here. I’m nervous. I hope they start blocking off roads!” Goulet texted at 10:49 a.m. “Like I said, he’s a smart man, almost too smart.”
That was the last text she sent. Goulet tried calling her daughter at 10:58 a.m., but when Butler picked up, the line disconnected. She later learned someone cancelled the call.
Butler shared with the commission examining the circumstances of her mother’s death, and those of 21 others during the 13-hour rampage, that she tried calling back 16 times with no luck in the hour that followed. She and her husband were detoured by a police roadblock en route to Goulet’s home.
A commission report summarizing what happened said evidence shows the gunman was at Goulet’s home for less than five minutes, during which time he shot her multiple times and injured her German shepherd, Ginger.
Evidence showed the gunman smashed a door, forced his way in and killed Goulet, who had fled into the bathroom attached to her room, Roger Burrill, senior counsel for the commission, said during a presentation Wednesday.
“The farthest corner of the residence,” he said. “She was a cancer survivor, she lived and loved rural Nova Scotia.”
The report states that initially the gunman drove past Goulet’s home — which was set back from the road and surrounded by fields — before looping back, according to one neighbour who saw the SUV he was driving do a U-turn. He stole Goulet’s grey Mazda 3 when he left.
About an hour after the phone call, the Butlers arrived to find the chain gates on Goulet’s long driveway were unhooked.
David Butler, Goulet’s son-in-law, made the harrowing discovery of her body. He later recounted to police that he told his wife, “We need help right now. There’s nothing we can do, it’s not good.”
Amelia Butler had already called 911 after seeing blood on the deck and together they immediately sought help — flagging down Mounties stationed at police roadblocks farther north on Highway 224, close to where the gunman had just killed RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson and Joey Webber.
Upon arriving at Goulet’s home, police discovered a side door was forced open and there were blood-stained pieces of police uniforms discarded on Goulet’s lawn: a grey shirt with an RCMP badge, a fluorescent traffic vest and a dark-coloured vest.
Webber’s silver SUV, which the gunman had stolen, was parked behind the house. Investigators later determined it was out of sight from the road where members of the RCMP’s tactical team had driven by — scanning driveways — after leaving the previous crime scene 1.8 kilometres away, the commission said. It’s unclear if the gunman was still on the property when they passed.
Radio communications between officers sent at 11 a.m. show they were aware of the silver SUV after speaking to witnesses at the previous crime scene. Tim Mills, the tactical team’s leader who passed Goulet’s property, warned his colleagues: “If they see a silver SUV Tracker with a guy with a yellow jacket, you got to, you can’t give him a second. You got to have a gun on him.”
Burrill said the timing shows that the gunman either had just or was in the process of shedding the identifying clothing and switching vehicles.
Inside Webber’s vehicle was a Correctional Services Canada jacket and a pair of blue pants with a yellow stripe, similar to what RCMP wear. Though it’s not clear exactly how the gunman obtained the items, earlier that Sunday morning he’d killed Sean MacLeod and Alanna Jenkins, who worked as managers in Nova Scotia prisons.
Paramedics ended up treating Goulet’s daughter for shock. They had been to her mother’s home and left after realizing there was no way of saving her.
That evening, after Butler was discharged from hospital, she started looking for information on where Goulet’s dogs were, eventually learning from a neighbour police had taken Ginger to a clinic in Dartmouth.
Challenges getting information
She and her husband later told the commission it was an ongoing challenge to get details from police — from whether Goulet’s home was still a crime scene, to where her body was, to details about what exactly happened to her.
“In the days that followed, no police officers ever reached out to Amelia and Dave to confirm that Gina had died,” according to summary of a meeting the couple had with the commission. “No one approached them to confirm anything. It was obvious to Amelia and Dave that is what had happened, but no one confirmed it.”
They told the commission they later discovered bullets in a closet and a drawer of the tiny bathroom where Goulet’s body was found. They said it was frustrating that police had not done a better search of the home and made them lose faith in the RCMP.
The commission did not come to any conclusions about why the shooter targeted Goulet, but one fellow denturist did recall a past encounter between the gunman and Goulet that stood out to her.
Debbie MacDonald later told police investigators she had witnessed an “embarrassing” exchange at a denturist conference in Dartmouth in September 2019, where Goulet insulted Wortman.
“He said something and Gina said, um, ‘Oh for f–k sake Gabe you don’t know that’ or something like that,” said MacDonald. “My eyes went big and like I knew that she embarrassed him and he knew it and like because we made eye contact and she said, ‘So what, it’s f–king Gabe, what’s he going to do?’ and walked away.”
Amelia Butler told police on April 21, 2020, she remembered hearing that the gunman had once asked if Goulet wanted to work with him but she never heard of her mother having any conflict with him.
Fellow denturists told RCMP investigators that Goulet likely taught the gunman when he was studying at the Nova Scotia Community College. She may have sold him equipment when he was opening his business in Dartmouth, and they were enrolled in the same training program in 2019, according to the commission’s records.