Nova Scotia RCMP’s chief investigative officer, Chris Leather. Photo: Halifax Examiner.

Police have confirmed that there are now “in excess of 19 victims” in yesterday’s mass murder rampage in Nova Scotia, said Chris Leather, the chief investigative officer for the RCMP in Nova Scotia.

The Halifax Examiner has identified 15 of the victims.

However, Leather said there are 16 crime scenes in Portapique and other northern Nova Scotia communities. Those crime scenes include five houses that were burned, and there is the potential for more victims to be found in those houses. There are still people unaccounted for in the area of the crime scene, the Halifax Examiner has learned.

“It appears that some of the victims were known to the suspect,” said Leather, “and others were targeted, and not known by the suspect.”

Yesterday, the RCMP notified the Serious Investigation Response Team (SIRT) that the suspect had been killed; such notification is required when police force results in the death or injury of a civilian. But today, said Leather, the RCMP made two further referrals to SIRT concerning other aspects of the response to yesterday’s crimes; Leather declined to say what was involved with those referrals.

As we are going to press, SIRT issued this statement:

The province’s independent Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) will investigate the circumstances surrounding the discharge of firearms by two members of the RCMP.

This is an additional referral from the RCMP.

Earlier today, the RCMP indicated there were two additional matters referred to SiRT, however, SiRT has determined the other matter is best investigated by the RCMP. Therefore, all inquiries for that matter should be directed to them.

The discharge of the firearms happened on April 19 while the RCMP were continuing their investigation into a gun-related incident in the northern region of Nova Scotia. RCMP referred the matter to SiRT later that day and SiRT commenced an investigation at that time.

No emergency alert was issued

The crime spree lasted more than 12 hours, from late Saturday night until around noon on Sunday. During that time, the killer travelled about 140 kilometres, killing people in communities along the way, and randomly en route.

As the spree was unfolding, the RCMP used its Twitter account to alert the public:

#RCMPNS remains on 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.

— RCMP Nova Scotia (@RCMPNS) April 19, 2020

Some 13 tweets were issued over the course of Sunday morning, but the emergency alert signal that automatically rings people’s phones was not activated.

So a person who was, say, walking their dog along a road would not have known about the Twitter posts, but assuming they had their phone with them and had cell coverage, they might have been alerted to the danger.

I asked Leather why the emergency alert wasn’t activated. He answered:

That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer for it at this moment. We’ll be looking at that and I hope to have an official response to you tomorrow or in coming hours. We have relied on Twitter … because of the instantaneous manner in which we can communicate. We have thousands of followers in Nova Scotia and we felt it was a superior way to communicate with this ongoing threat.

Premier Stephen McNeil was asked much the same question at today’s COVID-19 briefing. He answered:

Well, EMO [the Emergency Management Office] needs to be ordered to put that out. Public Health ordered us to put the COVID one out [on Easter weekend]. We are happy to support them, we have people ready, but we were not asked to put out that alert on the weekend.

Another reporter asked if it is a problem that the RCMP didn’t ask for the alert to be issued. McNeil responded:

Listen, this is a province in mourning. There will be lots of questions. I can tell you I’m not going to second guess why someone with the organization [the RCMP] —  what they did or didn’t do at this moment of time. This was an active environment. I can tell you that deaths, gunfire — let’s give them the opportunity as an organization to explain that to you. My job today as the premier of this province is to do all I can to provide support to those families and the citizens across this province as we deal with this tragedy.

It is of course the job of reporters to challenge and call out apparent failures in the system, especially in cases of emergency.

I additionally asked Leather why the RCMP tweeted that the suspect was “in custody,” when he was in fact dead. Leather answered:

So in terms of that description, I can see how, for instance, passersby may have considered Mr. Wortman to be in custody. But again, we’re moving into the search and investigational area. I think that question would be better posed to them.

Passersby do not operate the RCMP’s Twitter account.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. re “One hundred and twenty seven residents and 61 staff have the virus at nine licensed and unlicensed long-term care homes.”

    Why haven’t McNeil or Strang named the nine nursing homes where people have tested positive? Isn’t that critical information in the public interest?

  2. Thank you for your coverage. Regarding the last quote, I believe he said “SiRT investigational area“ not “search and investigational area”.