Highlights of this article:
• even as the evidence mounted that the killer was driving a fully decked-out replica of an RCMP cruiser, police seemed incapable of believing it;
• the two RCMP officers who took Lisa Banfield’s statement as she came out of the woods later mistook two other RMCP officers on Highway 4 for the killer, and then repeated the same mistake at the Onslow Fire Hall, firing their weapons at a third RCMP officer and endangering civilians in the hall;
• failing to access a photo of the killer’s car, an RCMP officer drove right past the killer without immediately realizing it;
• confusion and the resulting delay of the police response on Highway 4 gave the killer time to escape the Fishers’ house and continue his murderous spree on Plains Road;
• at two different crime scenes, RCMP officers drew their weapons on family members of the victims.
This article contains graphic descriptions of murder and intimate partner violence.
After 13 people were murdered in Portapique on Saturday night, April 18, 2020, a series of cascading RCMP mistakes, missteps, and miscommunications the next morning allowed the killer to continue his rampage uninterrupted.
As a result, nine more people were killed.
Moreover, police officers were so confused and alarmed that they twice briefly considered each other to be the killer, and once fired their weapons at a fire hall, endangering both a police officer and civilians.
And at two different murder scenes, RCMP officers drew their weapons on family members of the victims.
Failing to notify the public
As the Portapique murders were happening, different people — Jamie Blair, the McCully and Blair children, and Kate and Andrew MacDonald — told 911 and/or police on the scene the name of the killer and that he was driving a fake RCMP cruiser. Transcripts of police dispatch logs and radio communications between police officers show that that information was quickly shared among police.
The witnesses’ description of the police car were specific.
“There’s a police car in the fucking driveway,” Jamie Blair told the 911 call-taker after her husband Greg was shot. “It’s decked and labelled RCMP… but it’s not a police officer.”
“It’s a police car,” one of the children told the 911 call-taker. “He’s probably gonna blend in with the cops because he has a cop car.” “How do you guys know it was a cop car; did it have lights and stuff on it?” asked the call-taker. “Yeah, and it has the cop symbol on it, and he owns a cop car,” replied the child.
“Somebody in a cop car shot at us,” Kate MacDonald told the 911 call-taker.
But even with those specific descriptions, police were still confused about the car. Was it a decommissioned police car bought at auction and perhaps with a bit of the old decals still present? Maybe it was just a white Ford Taurus or Crown Vic, and it reminded the witnesses of a police car?
Police had the name of the killer and quickly did a records check. They learned he had three Ford Tauruses registered, and RCMP officers found two burned-out Ford Tauruses in Portapique. Halifax police found the third at the killer’s property in Dartmouth.
What they didn’t know that night was that the killer had another Ford Taurus that had never been registered to drive on the highways, and that car was fully decked out as an RCMP cruiser, with a light bar and authentic-looking decals.
What they did know that night, however, was substantial: they knew the full name of the killer, that he had killed multiple people, and that he was unaccounted for and therefore could kill again.
As the night progressed, the Great Village Fire Hall became an RCMP command centre. Multiple photos of the killer were collected — his driver’s licence photo and several from social media — and plastered on the fire hall wall. None of those photos were released to the public.
Had the killer’s name and photo been released to the public through the night, it’s possible that Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins would have been alerted and could have left their house to stay with friends.
It may be that police didn’t release any information to the public because they suspected the killer was dead, and so therefore the public was at no further risk.
According to a statement to the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) issued by Cst. Dave Melanson through his lawyer, Melanson and his partner, Cst. Terry Brown, were briefed at about 4:10am at the Great Village Fire Hall by Staff Sergeants Al Carroll and Steve Halliday.
Melanson and Brown were told the name of the killer and that “there were at least five, but probably several, victims (upwards of ten).” The killer, said the staff sergeants, “had last been seen in a white Ford Taurus… [and his] whereabouts are unknown, but it was possible that he had taken his own life and that his remains were in one of the burning buildings.”
A SIRT investigation synopsis entitled “Police Reports & Notes” does not rely on Melanson’s account but nonetheless supports it. Apparently based on Critical Incident Commander (I/C) Sgt. Jeff West’s notes, the timeline reads:
0432 hrs — HALLIDAY to I/C and group, from the interviews suspect shoots victim on the deck, shoots the dog, shoots the wife, saw him, knows him and he drove away in a ford Taurus. He has done all this on the way to a familiar area to do himself in. There are no more fires, he was there as the fires were going up.
In that account, the “victim” is Greg Blair, “the wife” is Jamie Blair. Those that “saw him” (the killer) were the Blair children.
So at 4:30am, the Staff Sergeant at the Portapique scene, Steve Halliday, believed without evidence that the killer had died by suicide.
But the killing continued.
At 6:30am Sunday, the killer’s girlfriend, Lisa Banfield, came out of the woods. McLeod and Jenkins were murdered in their Hunter Road home just minutes later.
Banfield was brought to the fire hall, and put in a back of an ambulance.
“She appeared in very rough condition,” noted Melanson in his statement to SIRT.
At 06:58am Brown started taking her statement. Banfield was being treated by an EMT as she was being interviewed. From the conversation with the EMT, it appears that Banfield was suffering injuries consistent with being kicked in the ribs, back, and kidney. She had cuts and abrasions to her knees, and had injuries to her wrist that were consistent with having successfully worked her way out of a handcuff. Her head hurt, having been dragged by the hair. She was shivering, extremely cold, and her feet were blackened, having spent the night in the woods barefoot. As Brown questioned her, she was put on IV and administered pain killers. The medic worried about swelling. Banfield’s injuries were so extensive that she was hospitalized for five days.
Asked about the police car, Banfield told Brown that the killer “made it. It’s identical to a police car. It has lights on it, it has RCMP, it looks identical to your police cars.”
“He got all the stickers,” she continued. “It looks identical. And it’s brand new. He put everything brand new on it. He has a divider, he has the CB thing, he has the speaker, he has the lights on top. It’s identical. It looks identical to your guys’ police cars.”
Banfield went on to recount events of the night before, but Brown circled back to the police car. “I’m really concerned about that marked Taurus,” he said. “You say the marked Taurus, it looks exactly like the police cars that we’re driving?”
“It’s a Taurus, but an Interceptor,” she replied.
“And it had the police stripes on the side, the buffalo head, like the — ?” asked Brown, using the past tense, as if he believed the car had been destroyed by fire.
“You look at it, you would think it’s a brand new police car.”
“And did it have lights on top or just inside,” pressed Brown, again using the past tense.
“Inside and out,” said Banfield.
But still, as late as 7:22am, Staff Sgt. Jeff West, the critical incident commander, related over the radio that “looks like, um, he has three Tauruses all together. One is in Dartmouth, and then I assume the other two are here [in Portapique] if you’re going to look at one at the warehouse and one down at um, his house.”
At the same time, Lisa Banfield’s sister Maureen arrived at the Great Village Fire Hall. Maureen had a photo of the fake police car on her phone. Police had that photo at 7:22am.
Five minutes later, at 7:27am, Melanson, radioed, “just a heads up, there’s — he could have as many as four Tauruses, but only one done up with decals.”
At 7:59am, Melanson was more specific: “All members — all members! Just want to make sure you are aware that the suspect may be driving a fully marked police car with lights, decals.”
At 8:02am, 911 dispatcher Lisa Stewart told someone at the Tantallon dispatch centre the full name of the killer and that “he may possibly be using a fully marked Ford Taurus with the car number twenty-eight bravo eleven on it. And it’s got lights, decals, everything on it… [he’s] arrestable for homicide, possibly count of eight.”
Four minutes later, RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers told Sgt. Wayne Sutherland that the killer is “probably out of that area,” referring to Portapique.
At about the same time, dispatcher Brittany Oulton told an officer at the Cobequid Pass toll plaza that “he could be anywhere in the province… and he is obviously very armed and dangerous.”
At 8:16am, this message is issued over the dispatch system: “All members with the province, this is Staff Sgt. Briers, risk manager of the OCC. This is a reminder because we’re looking for potentially a white, fully marked PC, 28-Bravo-11. Please wear your hard body armour the rest of the — your duration of your shift today just [in] the event you come across this vehicle.”
Again, none of that information was released to the public.
About 35 minutes later, firefighter Tom Bagley left his Hunter Road house for his morning walk. He came across the burning home of Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod, and went to help.
Bagley was shot dead.
One RCMP officer who didn’t know about the Portapique murders through the night was Cpl. Rodney Peterson, the Colchester County duty team leader. Peterson was off work, his phone turned off. “I don’t keep [the phone] by my bed or anything like that,” he later explained.
Peterson was scheduled to work at 9am Sunday morning in the Bible Hill detachment, so got up and showered, and at 8:35am turned on his phone. He saw that there were messages from Cst. Pat MacNeil, so on Peterson’s drive to the office, he called MacNeil. “He said there were some shootings the previous night, there’s a fire, and I think that three of my guys got called out.”
Peterson got to the Bible Hill detachment, and there weren’t many vehicles in the parking lot besides the vehicle he uses, a fully marked Chevy Tahoe, and a couple of others. Usually the parking lot was full. Peterson went to the locker room, changed and collected his gear, went to his office to log onto his computer.
“We have a shift report at the end of the shift that sort of says, ‘Okay, here’s what happened the night before, here’s stuff you need to do today to help us out,’ right?”
But Peterson couldn’t log in to the computer. “I’m having issues with the computer, which is fairly common with those,” he said. “You know, you log on, somebody didn’t log off properly, or there’s a communication issue with, you know, it won’t transmit.”
Peterson went to the Tahoe.
“Other than what happened, the day itself was beautiful,” he recalled. “The sun was shining.”
Just then, Sgt. Andrew O’Brien ran out of the detachment, having run in to the equipment room to quickly pick up a portable battery and get back to the Great Village Fire Hall command post.
“Why’d your guys come out last night?” asked O’Brien.
“I don’t know why,” responded Peterson. “I’m just getting here… I’ll find out for you.”
O’Brien related that “something went on” in Portapique.
O’Brien was walking away, “and it was sort of like, ‘Oh, by the way,’ type thing,” recalled Petterson. “He’s like, ‘we’re looking for a police car, and put your hard body armour on.’ So, I’m like, ‘Okay.’ So, I remember getting out and he’s leaving and putting my hard body armour on and still not knowing what went on last night, right.”
Peterson went to gas up at the Esso station across the street from the detachment office. “And so, in my head right now, I’m across the road, knowing that they had a shooting and we’re looking for a police car, which in my head doesn’t make sense, why we’re looking for a police car. So, in my head, it’s you see these decommissioned police cars, you know, you see them all over the place. That’s what I’m looking for. In my head, I remember being at the gas pumps, looking to see if this car is going to pull up.”
Peterson still couldn’t log in to the computer, so decided to drive to Portapique and try to log in once he got there. But on the road, he had phone call with Cst. Adam MacDonald, who was in Portapique. MacDonald told Peterson that there were “multiple people shot” in the community.
Also, said MacDonald, “we’re looking for a police car… and it has decals on it.”
“I said, ‘Okay, you mean subdued decals?” said Peterson. “I’m trying to process it in my head to figure out what he’s trying to get at… what I meant by that maybe wasn’t he thought. You can buy police cars [and] when you get the, when you take off the decals, it leaves a residue. So, in my head, that’s what he meant. Some of them you can, like, the old decal system, when you remove it, you see clearly it was a police car, right?”
MacDonald said a photo of the car had been sent out on the computer system that Peterson couldn’t log into.
Still en route, Peterson talked with other Bible Hill members in Portapique. He realized they had started their shifts at 7am Saturday, and had been in Portapique all night long. The cell coverage was spotty, but he managed to piece together a coffee order for the crew, and headed to the Masstown Market.
At 9:39am, a Be On The Lookout (BOLO) was issued that gave a description and a photo of the killer’s car, and it appears to have successfully downloaded to Peterson’s Mobile Work Station. At that time, Peterson was pulling into the Masstown Market drive-thru, when, at 9:42am, Colchester dispatch announced the murder of Lillian Campbell:
Ah, Colchester members from 355, we have just had a shooting on Highway 4 in Wentworth. A female is deceased on the side of the road. Um, unknown if she’s been shot or hit by a vehicle. Ah, they heard a loud bang, saw an RCMP vehicle, left heading towards Truro.
Wentworth was about 30 kilometres from Peterson’s position in Masstown, straight up Highway 4.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to the drive-thru now,’” he recalled.
“I’m in Masstown now, guys,” Peterson radios at 8:43. “I can head in that direction.”
Peterson still hadn’t seen the photo of the fake police car.
Other RCMP officers left the Great Village Fire Hall to also head to Wentworth. Peterson asked for the dispatch ticket and read it over the radio to the other officers: “911 sudden death, time delay is one minute. Her neighbour, Lillian last name unknown, 50 years old, found on the side of the road, she got hit by a car or shot. Ah, the complainant heard a bang, saw an RCMP vehicle there.”
A minute later, at about halfway between the home of Adam and Carole Fisher and the Hidden Hilltop Campground, the killer passed Peterson — the killer heading south, Peterson heading north. Peterson still didn’t understand that the killer was driving a fully marked police car. “And still I’m thinking, you know, is it one of these decommissioned cars?” he recalled.
Here’s the police radio traffic:
9:47:24am — PETERSON: I just saw an RCMP office — ah, car going towards Masstown on number 4 there, guys. Is that fully marked, like, or is it an ex-police car?
9:47:36am — H – ERT Base: The car we’re looking for is a fully marked PC, 28-Bravo-11, ID of it.
9:47:43am — PETERSON: Yeah, he just passed me going to Masstown, I think. He got a reflective vest on, guys.
9:47:53am — H – ERT Base: OK, go again.
9:47:56am — PETERSON: That vehicle just passed me. Ah, he’s almost to Masstown on the number 4.
9:48:04am — H – ERT Base: Copy
9:48:06 — PETERSON: The guy ah, was driving slow, smiled as he went by. Ah, white Caucasian male, ah looked like brownish hair. He’s got a reflective ah, vest or jacket on.
9:48:18am — CST. BROWN: That — that’s him! That’s got to be him. And it’s 28-Bravo-11, not 48.
9:48:18am — PETERSON: Yeah, not sure — not sure ah, the call sign was, ah, he’s passed me now. I’m not sure if he went on the Highway or not.
Peterson was referring to Highway 104, which intersected with Highway 4 to the south of his position.
Having passed the killer, Peterson was at a slight bend in the highway, and decided he couldn’t make a turn just then.
“At this point, I’m thinking I’m going to get shot if I don’t do this correctly,” he recalled. “If he turned around, which I didn’t know, I can’t say… I’m going to be the one pursued and shot at… When I get around the bend, I realize I can’t get turned around there. The road is … like you could, but it’d be like a four- or five-point turn. So if I get caught in this four- or five- point turns, you know, I was going to get shot, or if there’s another car coming that I wasn’t aware of and ran into me. So, I had to go down a little further and then turn around where I had more room and the come back up.”
Using the GPS data from Peterson’s vehicle, Mass Casualty Commission investigators determined that after passing the killer, Peterson travelled 1.2 kilometres before making the U-turn. The investigators compiled a series of three maps to illustrate Peterson’s movements”
At 9:49:36, Peterson radioed: “I no longer have a visual there. I’m coming up to 104 and number 4 interchange.”
At 9:50:04, he continued: “I’m at the interchange, ah, on top of the Highway here. Um, 104 ah, 10-ah, 104, number 4 highway. I’m just looking on the Highway here. I don’t think he went on the Highway so he might be headed back down ah, either Masstown or ah, ah, Portapique way.”
But that’s not what happened. In the time it took Peterson to turn around and head back south, the killer turned into the Fisher’s long driveway. Peterson completely missed him.
Mayhem and mishap on Highway 4
Just seconds after Peterson said the killer might be headed to Masstown or Portapique, RCMP dispatch broadcast over the Colchester radio that the killer was at the Fishers’ house:
9:50:18am — RCMP DISPATCH: Break! Break! Break for dispatch. Break for Dispatch.
9:50:23am — RCMP DISPATCH: Break for dispatch. We have the SOC [subject of concern at [the Fishers’ street address] Highway 4 in Glenholme at the residence. Just called it.
Seconds after that, at 9:50:33am, the same message was broadcast via Cumberland dispatch.
Many RCMP officers responded.
Cst. Rodney MacDonald and Cst. Nathan Forrest were at the Great Village Fire Hall when the call about Lillian Campbell’s murder came in.
Earlier in the morning, MacDonald and Forrest had helped rescue the Blair family dog in Portapique. “It was the last thing the kids had, the two parents had been shot and killed,” MacDonald later explained. Cst. Craig Hubley, an RCMP dog handler, was able to retrieve the injured dog, and MacDonald had a friend, Jen MacKay, who was a vet; he called MacKay, and she agreed to pick up the dog at the fire hall. In Portapique, Hubley handed the dog over to Forrest, and MacDonald started driving to the fire hall, only to hit a deer. “It smashed the hell out of the car,” said MacDonald. “It was a holy fuck situation.”
The dog was in fact saved, treated, and later returned to the kids. But that Sunday morning, MacDonald had just arrived arrived at the fire hall, and was walking in as he met Sgt. Andy O’Brien.
“And I said, ‘Andy, I just smashed your police car and hit a deer,’” said MacDonald. “And at the same time I said that, the radio went off to dispatch” about the Lillian Campbell murder.
“I’ll never forget the look on Andy’s face,” recalled MacDonald, “was panic and his jowels jingling as he’s trying to pull out the keys out of his pocket to throw me the keys. And he threw me the keys to his car and I ran down the steps, jumped in the car.”
MacDonald and Forrest were in such a hurry to get to the crime scene in Wentworth that MacDonald did not sign into the computer system, so his position was not seen by other RCMP officers on the systems in their cars. MacDonald and Forrest were heading north on Highway 4, just passing the Petro-Pass, when Peterson radioed that he had passed the killer.
MacDonald and Peterson must have passed each other, MacDoanld and Forrest heading north, Peterson heading south, when the Fisher call came in. MacDonald and Peterson were the first officers on the scene. They got out of their car, and pointed their carbines up what they thought was the Fishers’ driveway and waited for other officers to arrive.
Cst. Dave Melanson and Cst. Terry Brown — the same officers who had taken Lisa Banfield’s statement two and a half hours before — were in an unmarked Nissan Altima; they had driven to Masstown when Peterson said he passed the killer, thinking they could intercept the killer there. When the Fisher call came in, they turned around, got on Highway 104, then took the Highway 4 exit to head north towards the Fishers’ house. Several other RCMP cars, coming from both Great Village and Bible Hill, were soon behind them.
As Melanson and Brown approached, they saw MacDonald’s marked police car on the side of the road ahead of them and mistook it for the killer’s fake police car. Here’s the transcript of radio transmissions of the incident:
9:52:47am — CST. BROWN: Break! Break! We’ve got eyes on him. Marked PC on the side of the highway ahead of us.
9:52:54am — CST. MACDONALD: Guys, that’s MacDonald. MacDonald, we’re just trying to log in to find out where the fuck we’re at. We’re pulling back out right in front of ya.
9:53:02am — CST. BROWN: Copy, Copy.
“I’m standing outside the car with hard body armour on,” said MacDonald, and “the radio went off and I believe it was in the car because I believe I reached in to respond and it said, ‘we’ve got a marked police car at the end of the Fisher road.’ And I turned and looked, and there’s a couple of cars, at least maybe three, piled up down the road several pole lengths away getting out of their vehicles and they’re getting ready for battle, and I’m who they’re going to be pointing at.”
“So, because they’re talking about me,” continued MacDonald, “I got on the radio and I said, ‘it’s MacDonald, for fucks sake, don’t shoot,’ or along those lines.”
In his statement to SIRT, Melanson disputed MacDonald’s understanding of events. He said the RCMP car he saw on the side of the highway was much closer to Highway 104 than to the Fishers’ house.
And Melanson downplayed the severity of the interaction with MacDonald, saying merely that “he observed a marked Ford Taurus police vehicle on the side of the road. Cst. Brown warned Cst. Melanson to stop the vehicle, believing that it may be [the killer]. Cst. Brown went on the radio to determine who was in the vehicle, and found out that it was Cst. Rodney MacDonald.”
It’s clear from the radio transcript above, however, that Brown did not go “on the radio to determine who was in the vehicle,” but rather that MacDonald told Brown he wasn’t the killer without prompting.
The unmarked Nissan Altima Melanson was driving did not have GPS activated, but Peterson pulled up very quickly in his Tahoe, which did have GPS. Judging from that, the Mass Casualty Commission investigators believe that Melanson had the location of the interaction correct.
And that location is supported by Staff Sergeant McCullum, who soon arrived at the scene and later remembered that “everybody was spilling out [of their vehicles] and I said, ‘Why are we stopping, guys? It’s two kilometres up the road.’ And then it was like, ‘what the fuck are we here for? Let’s go, let’s go.’ And so everybody piled back in and we went up the road.”
While police were trying to figure out where they were, and how to get to the Fishers’ house, the killer left the Fisher property and turned to the left, north on Highway 4.
When police finally arrived in front of the Fisher property, they waited for more resources to arrive before moving onto the property.
By that time, the killer was on Plains Road, murdering Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien.
Onslow Fire Hall
Cst. Rodney MacDonald had successfully convinced his colleagues Cst. Dave Melanson and Cst. Terry Brown that he was not the killer, and so avoided a “blue on blue” shooting.
Cst. Dave Gagnon wasn’t so fortunate: minutes later, Brown open fired on him at the Onslow Fire Hall.
Early Sunday morning, the fire hall was designated as a comfort station for evacuated Portapique residents. Dave Westlake, the emergency management coordinator for Colchester County, decided the fire hall would act as a registration centre so evacuees could stay there temporarily while accommodations were found for them. Because of the pandemic, the Red Cross couldn’t send anyone to work at the fire hall, but it could remotely arrange hotel rooms for the evacuees. So Westlake was left to operate the centre himself, along with fire chief Greg Muise and deputy chief Darrell Currie.
Cst. Gagnon was assigned to the fire hall as security. He arrived at around 8:30 and positioned his patrol car in front of a granite memorial about 10 or 15 feet from the hall’s front door. He was wearing his uniform and body armour.
At 9:30, the first evacuees showed up, a family of three with a dog. They had left their two cats and chickens back in Portapique. The family decided rather than stay at the hall, they’d go get something to eat.
At 10:08, 911 calls started coming in about Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien being killed on Plains Road. One witness saw a man get out of a fully marked police car and shoot O’Brien.
Melanson and Brown were then at the Fishers’ residence on Highway 4. They jumped in the unmarked Nissan Altima, Melanson driving, and started looking around Debert for the killer. They drove down Masstown Road, searched the parking lot of the Debert rink, arrived at Highway 2 and headed towards Onslow.
“Cst. Melanson asked Cst. Brown to call his wife so that he could advise her to stay locked in their house with their children, as their residence was close to the last place that [the killer] had shot his last victims,” reads Melanson’s statement to SIRT.
At the Onslow fire hall, evacuee Richard Ellison had arrived. Through the night, one of Ellison’s sons, Corrie, had been shot dead by the killer, and another son, Clinton, had spent much of the night in the woods, thinking he was being pursued by the killer.
Westlake, the emergency coordinator, went out to the parking lot, got something out of his own car, and then walked over to the police cruiser to ask Gagnon for details about Ellison’s situation. Westlake was wearing jeans, a blue stocking hat, and a reflective EMO vest. He was carrying a clipboard and a radio was tucked into the vest. He stood outside the open driver’s side door, but a bit behind the car; Gagnon was sitting in the driver’s seat.
Just then, a Nissan Altima pulled up across the road.
“As we approached the Onslow Firehall, I observed a fully marked RCMP car parked in the driveway with a man standing next to the drivers side door,” wrote Brown in his statement to SIRT. “The man was wearing an orange reflective vest. The description that Lisa Banfield gave to me in the back of the ambulance was that [the killer] was wearing an orange vest. The description that Cpl. Peterson gave was that he was wearing a reflective vest and driving a fully marked police car. I believed the person standing next to this fully marked police car, wearing an orange reflective vest was [the killer].”
Melanson came to the same conclusion. “That’s him!” he yelled.
“Melanson stopped in the middle of the road and we both bailed to the trunk area of the unmarked Altima we were driving,” continued Brown. “We both had our carbines. I was yelling to the man ‘police’ and to show his hands. Melanson was trying to get out on the portable radio and I was covering us with my carbine pointed at the subject.”
Brown estimated the Altima was about 100 metres from the RCMP car. Brown could see the passenger side of the car, not the driver’s side, so he did not know Gagnon was sitting in the car.
“The man ducked behind the police car, popped up again, and then ran towards the firehall,” wrote Brown. “I could see no one else in or near the police car. I believed, based on the description I had received from Banfield, and the description from Cpl. Peterson, as well as the 2 very recent murders just up the road on Plains Rd. in Debert, that this person was [the killer]. I feared that there were people inside the firehall and their lives were in danger. I feared that should this person be able to run away from this location, he could enter nearby homes and kill more people.
“Fearing for my life and the life of others, I fired what I believed to be 3 rounds from my carbine,” continued Brown. “I did this while moving from cover behind our vehicle. The subject disappeared into the building and I jumped in the ditch for cover. I feared this person was going [to] emerge from the building and open fire on us.”
While Gagnon was giving Eastlake details about Ellison, he saw a grey Nissan Altima pull up across the road. He saw a couple of RCMP officers get out of the car, and recognized the face of the driver, although he couldn’t recall his name. “I was comfortable it wasn’t our suspect, because at the time the suspect was believed to have a police car, possibly a uniform and a yellow vest,” Gagnon told SIRT.
Gagnon saw Melanson and Brown go to the rear of the car and remove their carbines, and assumed they were setting up some sort of road block. He figured he’d finish with Westlake and then give them a hand.
“But then as I looked I saw them pointing guns towards my direction,” Gagnon wrote in his notebook soon after the incident. “I quickly grabbed radio and yelled out, ‘you’re pointing your guns at me.’ Then I heard shots being fired and could hear noise behind me so I shouted on radio ‘you’re shooting at me! Blue! Blue! Blue!’”
“The shooting stopped,” continued Gagnon. “I looked up and members still pointing towards my location. I poked my head out yelled out ‘it’s Gagnon 30B6.’ The members yelled back ‘get down.’ I yelled back ‘Gagnon 30B6, look at my car’ (something to that effect). The members realized I was with them. They lowered and walked up to me. I was shaken up.”
Westlake remembered going out to his car before going to speak with Gagnon about Ellison. While he was at his own car, he saw an RCMP cruiser drive by the fire hall, west to east. “The reason I noticed it is that it had a black push bar on it,” he told a SIRT investigator. “It was marked.”
Westlake only learned later that the killer was driving a fully marked police car with a black push bar on it.
He had almost certainly seen the killer driving by, mere moments before Melanson and Brown pull up in the Altima. And Gagnon had missed it.
“There was such a large police presence you didn’t think much of it until after,” explained Westlake.
When Brown started firing his weapon, Westlake ran to the fire hall, dropping his radio. “I remember diving through that door yelling ‘Shots fired! Get down! Get down!’ … Inside the building was Deputy Chief Currie, Fire Chief Muise, and a gentleman named Richard Ellison, who was waiting for a callback from Red Cross to get a hotel secured for the evening. Everybody moved to the furthest back eastern corner. All doors and windows were shut. We overturned tables and chairs and kind of dove behind those.”
About three or four minutes later, Gagnon and another officer came to the hall; the other officer had a weapon over his right shoulder, pointing down. They asked if everyone in the hall was OK, and Westlake told them they were.
“Melanson and I got back into our car and continued to look for [the killer],” wrote Brown in his statement to SIRT.
Drawing weapons on victims’ family members
Heather O’Brien was a VONS nurse who partnered with Leonna Allen, another nurse. The pair worked what Allen called “the shore” — the communities along the Minas Basin.
In the early morning of Sunday, April 19, O’Brien became aware of the murders in Portapique.
Allen had told O’Brien there was an RCMP roadblock at Five Houses, and Allen wasn’t sure she’d be able to get from her Five Islands house to her appointments in the Debert area. Even though she had the day off, O’Brien offered to help out if Allen couldn’t get through, as she lived in Masstown, close to Debert. But it turned out that wasn’t necessary — Allen found a way around the roadblock and made it to her Debert area appointments.
At 6:41am, O’Brien texted Allen: “OMG Leona. Just heard 9 people shot 3 in hospital and 6 dead.”
At 9:37am, Allen texted back a photo of the killer.
Throughout the morning, O’Brien was in a group Facebook message with her adult daughters, Michaella Scott and Darcy Dobson, discussing the Portapique murders.
O’Brien told Allen that she was “closely connected” to some of the victims in Portapique.
“She needed a coffee to clear her head because she was overwhelmed with all the information she was getting,” recalled Allen.
O’Brien texted her daughters to offer to bring them coffee as well. They each placed their orders, and then O’Brien set out from her Masstown home. Michaella lived nearby, in the Plains Road area.
Soon after, O’Brien added to the family’s group text: “Shots fired and RCMP in Debert.”
Allen and O’Brien spoke via phone at 9:59am.
“We talked about like, all this craziness that was happening,” recalled Allen. “And she said that she had thought she heard gunshots.”
O’Brien was likely hearing the shots that killed Kristen Beaton, 400 metres up the road.
Allen asked O’Brien where she was, and O’Brien said she was near the Home Hardware in Debert, on Plains Road near Lancaster Crescent.
“And she said, ‘I see a cop car,’” continued Allen. “And I said, ‘Okay, stay calm, just stay calm.’ …then I just heard her scream,” followed by three thuds.
“It didn’t even register in my head that that was a gunshot that I heard,” said Allen, “because I didn’t know that he was in a police vehicle or that that was even any part of all of this. I honestly thought that maybe she tried to avoid something, and she dropped her phone trying to control her vehicle or something.”
Allen tried calling O’Brien back but got no answer, so she called 911. Then remembering that O’Brien had mentioned her daughter Darcy Dobson, she found Dobson on Facebook, messaged her and asked her to call.
About 15 minutes later, Michaella Scott got a call from her sister Darcy Dobson saying that their mother had been in a crash on Plains Road, “with possible entrapment.”
“I quickly got in my car and headed towards the scene,” wrote Michaella. As she approached Plains Road she got another message from her sister, saying that the killer was in an RCMP cruiser and in uniform.
“I drove up to see two RCMP standing with rifles on the side of the road,” wrote Michaella. She got out of her car “and they lifted their rifles and proceeded to tell me that I needed to leave and I couldn’t be there.”
“I remember shouting back at them, saying ‘that’s my mom’s car, where is my mom?’” continued Michaella. “They never answered me. The more I approached, the more aggressive they got with me, telling me that I couldn’t be there and needed to leave the scene immediately, all while having guns drawn towards me. I was confused and scared.”
Michaella then saw her mother’s car, pressed against a tree, the driver’s side door opened. “I couldn’t see her,” she wrote. She tried calling her mother, but no one answered. She got back in her car and was about to leave.
“As I started to drive away, I noticed a blanket/tarp laying on the ground.”
Michaella went home, but then turned around and went back to the scene. By then, the road was blocked off; Michaella pulled off the road and the same two RCMP officers walked towards her. “That’s the daughter,” said one.
Michaella told them she needed to see her mother. “The male officer then handed me a card, apologized to me and said, ‘This is now being investigated as a homicide.’”
“This day burns in the back of my head,” wrote Michaella. “They took away my right to hold my mother’s hand, to say goodbye, to tell her I loved her one last time.”
Dan and Susan Jenkins woke up on Sunday morning, turned on the TV and learned that something was happening in Portapique. But that probably wasn’t going to interfere with their day — they were going to drive from their Pictou County house over to their daughter Allana’s house on Hunter Road to deliver some things they had held in storage for her.
Then they got a call from Jody MacBurnie.
Jody and his wife Shelly were best friends with Alanna Jenkins and her partner, Sean McLeod. The MacBurnies lived just down road from Alanna and Sean.
Jody MacBurnie explained that his cousin Greg Blair had been murdered in Portapique by a man who knew Alanna and Sean socially. And now Alanna and Sean were not responding to texts or phone calls.
Dan Jenkins called 911 and related his conversation with Jody about Alanna and Sean, and said Alanna wasn’t answering her phone.
RCMP Cumberland dispatch broadcast the information at 10:33am: “just to advise the 2328 Hunter Road extension with the fire, I’ve had the dad call in. He’s quite concerned he cannot reach his daughter’s cell phone.”
Dan and Susan decided to drive immediately to Hunter Road. But they were stopped at a roadblock about 400 metres before Wentworth Provincial Park. Lillian Campbell had been murdered on the side of the roadway in front of the park.
The first RCMP officer on the scene of Campbell’s murder was Cst. Brenna Counter, who had driven to Wentworth from the Cobequid Pass toll plaza. She was followed by Cst. Stephen Maddison, who had travelled from Parrsboro.
“We had no idea where the shooter was,” wrote Maddison later. They set up roadblocks on either side of the murder scene, placing their vehicles across the roadway. They wore body armour, and had their carbines out and ready.
“We maintained our position and were listening as the horrific events played out,” wrote Maddison, referring to the Plains Road murders. “We knew the shooter was no longer in our area.”
At that point, Michael Hyslop arrived at the scene and showed Counter a photo of his spouse Lillian Campbell. “It was confirmed that it was her that was deceased,” wrote Maddison.
Then Dan and Susan Jenkins showed up at the roadblock. While stopped, Jody MacBurnie called again, saying Alanna and Sean’s house was on fire.
“We were approached … by a male who we advised to stop and show his hands,” wrote Maddison. “It was Dan Jenkins, the father of Alannah (sic). He stated that he had heard that her house on Hunter Road had burned and he has not been able to reach his daughter.”
Dan Jenkins remembers the interaction differently.
“Dan got out of their car and walked a quarter of a mile to the RCMP car,” explains a statement prepared by the Jenkins’ lawyer, Mark Pineo. “A female RCMP officer was at the car. She pulled out a rifle on Dan and told him to stop and put his hands up. The police officer asked Dan to walk a little closer. The police officer asked Dan who he was. Dan gave the police officer Alanna’s name and address. The police officer told Dan that she couldn’t tell him anything and asked him to get back in his car. The police officer asked Dan for his phone number and told him that she would call him. Dan never heard from the police officer.”
Maddison admitted that he and Counter knew at the time that “there was at least one deceased person at the Hunter Road location but did not relay that to Mr. Jenkins.”
Dan and Susan turned around and went home.
The next day, an Amherst RCMP officer called the Jenkins and told them it would take a while for the medical examiner to identify the deceased at the house fire. “The officer was not very nice on the phone,” reads the Jenkins’ statement. “He did not have a good personality.”
They managed to get a new RCMP liaison, Cst. Wayne Bent, known as “Skipper.” Skipper was very good to the Jenkins, and was more forthcoming with information, admitting that it was unlikely Alanna had survived. Despite that bad news, the Jenkins liked Skipper. “Skipper was the personality the family needed.”
Shawna Curley, a nurse with the medical examiner’s office, kept in contact with the Jenkins, and said they could call her at any time. “Shawna was amazing,” they wrote in their statement.
A couple of weeks after the murders, Dan, Susan, and Sean’s two daughters went to a meeting with the RCMP at the Bible Hill detachment. “At the time, they believed the information the RCMP was giving them, but within a short period of time, they realized some of what the RCMP said was a lie,” reads their statement. “Their security and trust in the RCMP was then lost.”
At the meeting, Susan asked when the RCMP knew who the shooter was. The response was “nothing could have changed,” but “the family doesn’t think anyone needed to die on April 19.”
The Jenkins said there should have been roadblocks put up around Portapique immediately Saturday night.
“The communication level was non-existent,” they continued in the statement. “They didn’t put warnings out.”
Had an emergency alert gone out at 11pm, Alanna and Sean would have gotten it, as they both had phones, and they could have left their house.
Dan and Susan got official confirmation of Alanna’s death six or seven weeks after the murders.
They weren’t allowed to visit the Hunter Road scene for “many weeks” after the murder. They tried, but were turned away. Then one day, Dan and Susan drove to Hunter Road and there was finally no police presence. They walked the property.
“There was just the basement with two perfect outlines on the floor.”
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The maps of Peterson’s position show times about 9:50, but the text says 8:50.
Which is correct?
Right, sorry, the transcripts were in Eastern Time, and I forgot to change them to Eastern.
Tim Bousquet excellent work thank you for keeping the public informed (you know the ones paying the millions of $$ for this circus called an inquiry). It would be a lot better process if everyone just told the truth rather than statements “pasteurized” by lawyers worrying about liability. The families and the public RIGHTLY deserve better, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
RCMP members on the ground are not the issue here it is the management or in the case the “lack of it” that needs to examined. It extends a lot higher up the command chain than the staff sergeant level.
What I would really like to know if you lied to the “RCMP” the way they have lied to public, you would be charged with obstruction of justice. Maybe the commission could make this recommendation but I believe they lack the integrity and most the desire to have the truth come out.
If the initial descriptions of his car had’ come from someone other than children, female witnesses and female dispatchers, ie: ‘guys, who know what they’re talking about when it comes to cars’, would the police have reacted a little differently? Betcha they would’ve.
I hope that an audit of the Technology System by an outside agency, similar to the one done of NSCC Systems by Deloitte and Touche a few years ago is ordered and followed up on. I sympathize with the officers who struggled with the technology because it either didn’t work or wasn’t user friendly. There are about two dozen icons on the computers that I most commonly access at my work. The old familiar ones that we once used have never been removed and now lead to broken links. They’re not easy to identify. A couple of minutes in, I realize I’ve clicked on the old, not the new. Time wasted. Upgrades are done. No hands on teaching. Just an occasional email with instructions which soon gets deleted.
Sad. This reminds me of the theme in No country for old men. The police were hopelessly unprepared for this crime. They were living in a world where they couldn’t fathom the truth of what the killer was doing.
This is the best compilation of this story I’ve read so far. It is a tragedy and there will always be more questions than answers. You’ve been doing an excellent job on this story Tim, and you’re treating all the victims ( including the first responders) with respect. Your work is exemplary.
Everything can never be included but I was curious there is no mention of the only officer who died, Const. Heidi Stevenson.
Keep up the excellent journalism.
Those documents haven’t been released to me yet. I have some guesses what they’ll contain, but I’ll wait until I can document it.
Like Tim said, no documents said have been released yet about the Shubenacadie events.
But one thing has come out: Const. Stevenson commenting at the Enfield station around 8:15 how the shooter had a fully decked out replica car. Not something I expected, and just makes everything that much sadder, and harder to figure.
We will have to wait a week to hear more of those details.
Am I mistaken in believing there was a non-public MCC proceeding just before the most recent foundational documents were released at which time lawyers for the RCMP argued against calling officers, perhaps those who had been first at the scene of the Plains Road murders? I dug around the MCC webpage but it is pretty opaque.
I have also seen Adam Rodgers most recent podcast and read the Facebook post by Ms. O’Neill’s daughter it referenced. Simply shocking and heartbreaking information conveyed.
The commission lawyers argued in public that the cops shouldn’t testify
I should clarify that the commission lawyers argued that the three constables first at the scene (Beselt, Merchant, and Patton) should testify, but later in the process, not right away. The commissioners themselves disagreed with this, and ruled that they would testify at the very next public proceeding, which is what happened.