Memorial at entrance Portapique Beach Road. Photo: Joan Baxter.
The memorials for the fallen of last week’s horrific mass shooting in Nova Scotia mark a trail of grief and an outpouring of love.
Yesterday, mourners were following that trail, mostly individually or as couples apparently respecting public health directives for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some were stopping at one memorial after another to lay wreaths, flowers, teddy bears, flags, poignant notes, and posters, and other mementos to express their sorrow and love for the victims, and in some cases their gratitude to the RCMP.
Most stood or kneeled in silence before the memorials.
Others could not contain their grief. At one of the memorials, a woman hugged herself, rocking back and forth, and whispered over and over again, “senseless, senseless.”
At another, a woman fell to her knees sobbing, while her husband held her and tried to console her.
The memorials stretch from Portapique, where 13 died in the mass shooting that began the night of April 17, to Wentworth in Cumberland County, where Lillian Hyslop was gunned down the next day as she was taking her daily walk along Highway 4.
There are more in West Wentworth on Hunter Road, where the killer spent three hours on the morning of Sunday, April 18 before driving off in his fake RCMP vehicle, but not before he had killed corrections officers Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod, burned down their home, and fatally shot Tom Bagley, a retired firefighter, who was coming up the driveway, possibly to help with the fire.
There are two more memorials on Plains Road, just south of Debert, which mark the spots where two healthcare workers were gunned down in their own vehicles mid-Sunday morning.
Those memorials mark where Kristen Beaton, who was pregnant with her second child, and Heather O’Brien, were shot.
The fence around Debert Elementary School has also been transformed into a memorial to Lisa McCully who taught there. The much-loved teacher was killed Saturday night in Portapique.
After this trail of death north of Truro, the gunman continued south that Sunday morning, killing another three people, including Constable Heidi Stevenson, Joey Webber and Gina Goulet, before an RCMP tactical unit shot and killed him at the Big Stop gas station in Enfield.
Establishing the timeline of events
The complete timeline of the gunman’s movements is still not clear, although the RCMP have provided maps showing where each of the three clusters of murders occurred — that in Portapique, that between Wentworth and Debert, and then the three in and around Shubenacadie. The Halifax Examiner has reported the narrative, and developed a timeline and map that can be viewed here.
The RCMP says officers arrived in Portapique at 10:26 on Saturday night, in response to a 911 call reporting gunshots. They found 13 dead in the tiny community.
The responding police officers contained a four-square-kilometre perimeter, according to RCMP Support Services Officer Darren Campbell, who spoke at a news briefing on Friday. They spent the night dealing with the death and fires they found at the scene, while also searching for the suspect whose identity they surmised fairly early on (we’re calling the gunman “GW”).
After their initial tweet at 11:32 PM Saturday night about the “firearms complaint” in the Portapique area, the RCMP did not send out any more public information until 8:02 the following morning, in a tweet that stated:
#RCMPNS remains on the scene in #Portapique. This is an active shooter situation. Residents in the area, stay inside your homes & lock your doors. Call 911 if there is anyone on your property. You may not see the police but we are there with you #Portapique.
However, as the Halifax Examiner reported yesterday, by the time that tweet went out, it appears GW was long gone from Portapique, and was already 50 kilometres away on Hunter Road in Wentworth.
Campbell said that after killing Alanna Jenkins, Sean McLeod, and Tom Bagley on Hunter Road, GW visited a couple in Glenholme. But that sequence of events seems incorrect. It seems far more plausible that GW drove straight to Wentworth on Highway 4, a distance of 16 kilometres, where he shot Lillian Hyslop who was walking on the roadside just across from the Wentworth Provincial Park.
According to Campbell, the 911 call about a “female walker” in Wentworth came at 9:35am. Heather Matthews, a resident of Wentworth, told the Halifax Examiner she heard the shot between 9:20 and 9:30am.
From Wentworth, it seems likely that GW continued along Highway 4 for another 34 kilometres to Glenholme, where he knocked on the door of the couple who knew him. They did not answer the door, and instead called 911.
This would fit with the timing of the RCMP tweet sent at 10:04am, which advised the public to avoid Highway 4 near the Hidden Hilltop campground in Glenholme, as GW — who had been identified in an RCMP tweet at 8:54am — was in that area.
From there, it appears that GW headed southeast on the Plains Road through Debert towards Onslow.
At 10:17am the RCMP sent a tweet with a photo of GW’s mock police cruiser, warning that he might be wearing an RCMP uniform.
Four minutes later, the RCMP tweeted:
The roadside memorial for Kristen Beaton — where she was gunned down — is just past Debert, about 12 kilometres from Glenholme where the RCMP said GW was located at 10:21, and 10 kilometres from the turnoff from Highway 4.
Two hundred metres past Beaton’s memorial is the one for Heather O’Brien.
We do not know what time the RCMP received 911 calls for the two healthcare workers who were killed on Plains Road.
There is also much we don’t know about what happened between late Saturday night when the RCMP first discovered the horrific crime scenes in Portapique, and early Sunday morning when GW was driving along Hunter Road in Cumberland County, setting out on another wave of killing would end another nine innocent lives.
A mourner at the memorial on Hunter Road said to me that with so many of GW’s hours that night still unaccounted for, she is afraid of what the RCMP may yet find as they continue their investigation.
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