Shortly after 8:30am on April 19, 2020, Amelia Butler texted her mother, Gina Goulet, a denturist who lived near Shubenacadie. It was early days of the pandemic; Amelia was making her weekly trip to the grocery store, and she offered to do the shopping for her mom, too.
Gina interrupted with the horrible news that she knew a mass murderer.
Gabriel- Denturist that wanted me to work for him. He’s running loose with a gun.
Portapique area, he has a place.
Holy Shit, that’s him!!!!!
I have been seeing it all over the news. He shot someone and lit a bunch of stuff on fire.
I know John Lilly [a fellow denturist] called Raquel and said- John just called we are to be careful he doesn’t contact us and no comments to reporters.
He knows where I live. Fuck, I hope they catch him.
That’s crazy. I can’t believe that
Me either! It makes me nervous
He’s at large
You will be fine where you are at, there’s no way he could get that far without being caught.
The text exchange continued off and on for over two hours. At one point Gina said that “His girlfriend Lisa has my cell #,” and then, “my anxiety just got bad.”
Amelia again reassured her mother: “That is a long trek from there to your house and he would have to be able to get across the bay unnoticed. He is not going to be out where people can see him.”
As the morning went on, mother and daughter learned that the killer was driving a fake police car. Amelia sent her mother a picture of the tweet the RCMP issued that showed the car.
“Wow he is a smart man,” texted Gina. “Fuck.”
Amelia again mentioned the grocery store.
“No STAY THE BLAZES HOME!!!!” responded Gina. “Wait til they catch him.”
They continued to discuss where the killer might be going. Maybe to the city? suggested Gina.
“Hard to say where the mother fucker is going” said Amelia.
“Haha as long as not here,” responded Gina. “I’m nervous. I hope they start blocking off roads! Like I said he’s a smart man. Almost too smart.”
That was Gina’s last text, at 10:50am.
At 10:58:04am, Gina phoned Amelia. Amelia’s phone quacked twice — she had a “duck ringer.” She picked up, but as she swiped to accept the call, the call on the other end hung up.
Amelia texted her mom: “Hellooooo is everything ok? It hung up before I could answer.”
There was no response.
• • •
A few minutes before — at 10:49:35am — the killer rammed his fake RCMP cruiser into Cst. Heidi Stevenson’s real RCMP cruiser as Stevenson was driving up a ramp at the Highway 2/ Highway 224 interchange in Shubenacadie. Stevenson and the killer then engaged in a horrific shootout — forensics and firearms reports indicate Stevenson managed to wound the killer before he killed her.
A passerby, Joe Webber, saw the crashed police cars and got out to help. The killer placed Webber in the back of his fake car and shot him dead. Then, the killer set his fake car on fire, and drove away in Webber’s silver SUV, a Ford Escape.
Soon after, the RCMP Emergency Response Team (ERT) arrived at the scene. One of many civilian witnesses to the shootout told them that the killer had driven away in a silver Chevy Tracker (of similar appearance to an Escape), heading south on Highway 224. The ERT jumped back in their vehicle and headed south, looking for the killer.
Meanwhile, the killer drove Webber’s SUV 1.8 kilometres south to Gina Goulet’s house on Highway 224. He drove up the long driveway and carefully parked behind the house, such that anyone travelling along the highway in a southerly direction wouldn’t see the SUV. He then forced his way into the side door of the house, and shot Gina multiple times; Gina was his 22nd murder victim.
He also shot one of Gina’s two dogs, Ginger, a German Sheppard. (Ginger survived.)
The killer changed out of his bloody clothes and took Gina’s car, a grey Mazda3.
Based on the timing of Gina’s interrupted phone call to Amelia, and a later videotape of the passing Mazda, investigators with the Mass Casualty Commission think the killer couldn’t have been at Gina’s house for more than five minutes.
The ERT passed Gina’s house either during the five minutes he was in the house, or immediately after he left. Either way, they missed the killer.
• • •
In the 45 minutes after her mother’s phone call abruptly ended, Amelia tried 16 times to reach Gina while she and her husband, David Butler, raced from their Stewiacke home to Gina’s home south of Shubenacadie. They feared the worst.
A friend texted to say “they got him” (meaning police had the suspect) while the couple was still driving to Shubenacadie.
A roadblock set up at the Shubenacadie interchange meant Amelia and David had to backtrack to Stewiacke, then take Highway 102 south to Milford and Highway 224 north to Gina’s house, a detour that cost them an extra 10 to 15 minutes.
As they approached Gina’s house from the south, they could see a silver SUV behind the house. “I had a very sinking feeling, like all the dots are getting connected and this is getting worse,” David later told a police investigator.
David parked, walked to the side door. Amelia was following him. They saw blood on the entry way floor and on the doorknob to the open door. There was broken glass.
Amelia screamed for her mom, but there was no reply. She called 911.
David entered the house and saw a small but “fat” silver shell casing on the hallway floor. He knew guns, and saw the casing wasn’t from a rifle but probably from a “heavy set handgun.” He turned to look towards the hallway and saw a body. David’s description of Gina’s body is so graphic that it is redacted from the interview transcript, but it’s clear he knew her to be dead.
“I didn’t want that to be the last image she [Amelia] had seen of her [Gina],” said David. So he returned to the entryway, where Amelia was still on the phone with 911. “Honey,” said David, “we need cops. We need to get help right now. There’s nothing we can do.”
“As we were leaving, I noticed there was a blue shirt and a reflective vest laying just beside the deck,” said Amelia.
Knowing that the 2/224 intersection was blockaded by police, they decided to drive there to get help. They got in David’s truck, and only then did they realize Gina’s car was “gone” — it wasn’t parked where she usually parked.
As the couple drove up Highway 224, Amelia was still on the line with 911. “I just told them to send an ambulance,” she said.
David flagged down Cst. Austin Comeau, who had left the Shubenacadie murder scene and was driving back to the RCMP’s Enfield detachment. Amelia overheard the conversation between David and Comeau, and understood that her mother was dead. She screamed. Comeau left to go to Gina’s house.
Distraught, Amelia broke down and went into shock.
Just then, a native woman pulled up in a white BMW, seemingly out of nowhere. “It seemed so odd,” said David. “This… woman got out of her car and she come down and she kept saying, ‘you know, it’s gonna be okay. I lost a son in 2017 to a drunk driver,’ and she was all over the map, but she was with us.”
“I’m not sure why she was there,” said Amelia, “but she came and sat with me and David.”
As Amelia’s physical condition worsened, the unknown woman went to Gina’s house to summon help from the gathering police.
The ambulance Amelia had called for Gina finally arrived, but it was Amelia who went to hospital.
She was treated and released at around 6pm. Amelia and David returned to their home in Stewiacke.
• • •
Gina and the killer were both part of the small professional community of denturists in Nova Scotia, which numbers about 60. They knew each other.
One denturist told investigators the killer had bought dental equipment from Gina when he set up his practice in Dartmouth 20 years ago. Another denturist remembered that Gina and the killer had taken the same professional development course seven months earlier, in September 2019.
The gunman’s common-law partner knew Gina too.
Lisa Banfield told investigators her partner had initially not liked Gina very much because he thought Gina was too close to someone “high up” in the provincial Denturist Society “who could cause shit for denturists.”
But Lisa said he eventually changed his mind after “her and I connected and she seemed nice enough to me.” Lisa recalled that Gina had once visited their summer home in Portapique, and Lisa had once gone by herself to visit Gina at her Shubenacadie home; Lisa wanted the details of a diet program that had helped Gina lose a lot of weight.
Lisa also told police that on April 18, 2020, the day the couple went for a drive to celebrate their anniversary, she was surprised when her partner pointed out a cottage he claimed Gina owned. Lisa wondered how he knew that.
• • •
As more documents are released related to the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020, several themes keep repeating.
The families of victims not only lost loved ones under excruciating circumstances, but the communication with the RCMP in the aftermath of the tragedy left many families feeling helpless and frustrated.
“In the days following Gina’s murder we had no idea where her body was,” wrote David in a statement presented to the Mass Casualty Commission. “Fortunately, a local funeral director reached out to us to assist us in locating Gina’s body. Amelia and I were never given a formal next-of-kin notification of the death of Gina. We were not informed who we should contact to try to find where Gina’s body had been taken and when it was removed from her house.”
Similarly, the Jenkins family didn’t get a formal acknowledgment of their daughter Alanna’s death until six or seven weeks after she died.
Another theme running through the documents is that crime scenes were not thoroughly investigated.
Eighteen hours after police reopened the Highway 2/ Highway 224 interchange in Shubenacadie, a neighbour found a pair of handcuffs at the site — they had apparently fallen out of the fake police car, and had previously been used in an attempt to bound Lisa Banfield two nights before.
Likewise, lawyers for victims families say that when one of the vehicles in which either Kristen Beaton or Heather O’Brien was killed on Plains Road was returned to the family, it still had bullet fragments and body parts in it.
And according to David Butler, Gina Goulet’s house wasn’t properly searched or secured.
On Monday, April 20, the couple drove past Gina’s house and saw no crime scene tape or police. They contacted RCMP. “We were told, yes, the police were finished with the home, the scene was cleared, and it was now our responsibility to secure the home.”
David went to the hardware store to buy supplies to secure the house.
After speaking with the insurance company, David and Amelia hired Deep Down Cleaning, and the company cleaned the crime scene on Wednesday, April 22.
Weeks later, Amelia and David found evidence in the house the police had missed — a piece of lead in a bathroom vanity (presumably from a bullet), and a silver shell casing in a closet.
While their interactions with victims’ family members were wanting, RCMP officers did go to great lengths to care for the pets of the victims.
The Blair children’s dog, a Boston terrier, was shot when Greg and Jamie Blair were murdered. Early on Sunday morning Portapique was still an active crime scene, but officers on the ground made heroic efforts to rescue the dog and to arrange for a vet to treat it, successfully.
And police took Ginger, Gina’s German Shepherd, to a Dartmouth vet clinic where a bullet was removed from her leg. Gina’s second dog, a Chihuahua named Ellie, was uninjured, and police on scene brought her to a neighbour to care for.
Another recurring theme is the failure by RCMP managers to accurately communicate the whereabouts of the killer to the dozens of officers giving chase throughout Sunday morning.
Senior managers unfamiliar with the geography of Colchester and Hants East counties found themselves always a step behind the killer.
During one radio communication, officers were told the suspect was heading south from Brookfield on Highway 102 (the four-lane divided highway) when he was actually on Highway 2, the two-lane back road.
After the Shubenacadie interchange murders, a witness told responding officers he saw the shooter heading south on highway 224 in a silver SUV Tracker.
The ERT gave pursuit but many other officers were uncertain where to position themselves to stop the killer. In two separate radio broadcasts over the Colchester and East Hants RCMP radio channels, something got lost in translation. Highway 224 was alternately described as Highway 4 and then as Highway 2.
At 11:00:37, Staff-Sergeant Steve Halliday broadcast: “Hey Hants East, we have a member who’s been hit. The suspect is still in a silver SUV and he is still headed southbound on Highway 4. We need to lock that down.”
At 11:02:31, Cst. Tim Mills responded to a radio query from Staff-Sgt Jeff West and broadcast over the ERT channel that the killer was “driving southbound on Number 2 Highway.”
And at 11:03:10, Halliday issued another message over the East Hants radio channel: “Last report, southbound on Highway 2, near Milford.”
The killer’s rampage ended just before 11:30am at the Enfield Big Stop when Cst. Craig Hubley and Cst. Ben MacLeod recognized and shot him more than a dozen times while the two cars were stopped at the gas pumps.
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I have to show my lack of understanding of technology in order to ask this…I was looking at properties in the Enfield, Elmsdale, Shubenecadie, Stewiacke area a few weeks ago. Don’t know it at all. Didn’t matter. It was a nice day. I was depending on Google Maps with my cell phone and routinely lost my data connection. The back roads twist and turn and interconnect in a few spots. Would more towers and better road signage have made it easier for the police to determine/communicate locations? That’s a Provincial government responsibility. Some rural communities have asked the gov’t to assist with internet services.
This is all so horrifying. It really seems like a lack of understanding of the area (and poor communication) really hampered the response. I know this area a bit, Joey Webber lived not far from us. but you’d think RCMP would know the area like the back of their hand.