A poster at the roadside memorial in Portapique commemorates the 22 people killed in the mass shooting. It's a big red heart on a royal blue background, with the names of people written on it in black, and a small map of Nova Scotia with Nova Scotia Strong in white capital letters in the lower left corner.
A poster at the roadside memorial in Portapique commemorates the 22 people killed in the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

The man who killed 22 people across Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2020 had intended to kill five more people.

That claim is made in an affidavit signed by RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell in response to a class action lawsuit filed by the families of the killer’s victims and survivors of the rampage.

After killing 13 people in Portapique, then nine more people in a path stretching from Wentworth through Debert and on to Shubenacadie, the killer was himself shot and killed by the RCMP at the Big Stop in Enfield at about 11:30am on Sunday, April 19. He appears to have been on his way towards the Dartmouth area, with the aim of killing more people.

“At the time the gunman was stopped, the RCMP were able to confirm nine people had been killed,” reads Campbell’s affidavit. “In total, he killed 22 people and one of the victim’s unborn child, and I believe he intended to kill at least five others.”

Campbell details what he knew of the victims and intended victims:

Of these 27 people, it appears that 18 of them were known to the gunman, while the remaining persons were strangers.

For those victims who were known to the gunman, some were acquaintances and some were neighbours. His motivation remains unclear in several cases. For those who were strangers, it appears that some appear to have been randomly chosen by the gunman and some were targeted by the gunman because they tried to help others.

Some of the victims were travelling when they were killed or injured by the gunman. Fourteen of the victims were killed in their homes. Some of the victims were aware of the gunman’s identity and that police were searching for him. In other cases, it is not possible to determine what the victims knew.

Campbell doesn’t name the five intended victims. It’s unclear if they are all people who the killer was not able to attack, or if they include people who were in fact attacked by the gunman but survived.

In the first category, one of the intended victims appears to have been Lisa Banfield’s sister. Lisa Banfield was the life partner of the killer; according to the RCMP, she emerged from the woods in Portapique at about 6:30am on April 19.

“In addition to providing details regarding the gunman, she [Lisa Banfield] reported that he had loaded several firearms into the front seat of a replica RCMP vehicle, had assaulted her and that her sister may be a target,” reads Campbell’s affidavit. “When Halifax Regional Police contacted her sister, members of Banfield’s extended family shared a photo of the gunman’s fully-marked replica RCMP Ford Taurus. This photo was provided to the RCMP Critical Incident Command at about 7:22 am.”

Search warrant documents previously obtained by the Examiner explain that after Lisa Banfield emerged from the woods and spoke with police, she said that the killer “told Lisa Banfield that he was going to the city to get [redacted]… Members of the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) attended the residence of [redacted] and located her and [redacted] and provided them security as [the killer] had not been located.” The Examiner understands this was the Cole Harbour home of Lisa Banfield’s sister. Possibly, the second redacted name in that account was a second intended victim.

Two more people that the killer was unable to attack were the couple who live in Glenholme; in the midst of his murder spree, the killer had pulled up to their house, got out of his car with a rifle, and knocked on their door. They hid under their bed and called 911, and the killer left.

If Cambell’s five intended victims include people who were attacked by the gunman but survived, then we’d have to consider the couple who were shot at while driving on Orchard Beach Road in Portapique the night of April 18. The couple had driven down the road to investigate a house fire, and saw a man wearing a police uniform standing next to what looked like a police car, and so drove off. According to search warrant documents, the killer then drove that look-alike police car alongside the couple’s car, and shot through the driver’s side window. The bullet injured the man driving, but he was able to escape the scene.

Another obvious intended victim was Cst. Chad Morrison, whom the killer shot and injured at the intersection of Highway 2 and Highway 224 in Shubenacadie.

It’s hard to see how Campbell landed on specifically five more intended victims, unless the list doesn’t include those were attacked and survived but does include others the public doesn’t yet know about.

Police knew who killer was and that he was driving a look-alike RCMP car

The killer’s replica police car. Photo: RCMP

Campbell’s affidavit shows that the RCMP knew the identity of the killer almost as soon as the killing began.

The first 911 call from Portapique came in at 10:01pm. “The caller reported that her husband had been shot by her neighbor,” reads the affidavit. “The caller added that her neighbour is a denturist and that there was a police car or police cars in the driveway and that the man had a ‘big gun’. RCMP units were dispatched beginning at 10:04 pm and the first RCMP unit arrived in Portapique from Bible Hill Detachment at 10:26 pm. The first RCMP member on the scene encountered a survivor who reported he had been shot by an individual he believed to be his neighbour. Further 911 calls suggested the suspect was driving a car like a police car.”

But the RCMP wasn’t able to understand just how many former police cars the killer had.

At 10:41pm, officers “located a burning white Ford Taurus decommissioned police cruiser in the driveway of one of the burning buildings,” reads the affidavit.

By midnight, Portapique was swarming with cops — 23, one of whom was Nicholas Andrew Dorrington, the very same RCMP officer who had issued the killer a speeding ticket on Portapique Beach Road two months previously, on Feb. 12. The future killer was driving a decommissioned Ford Taurus police car.

“When [on the night of April 18] witnesses described that the gunman was driving a car that resembled a police car, the member [Dorrington] recalled the traffic stop, and circulated the photograph of the gunman’s license, speed and the rear of his Ford Taurus vehicle,” reads Campbell’s affidavit. “Shortly after midnight, this photo was provided to some RCMP members on scene as well as the Critical Incident Commander.”

At 1:58am, Halifax police found another Ford Taurus at the killer’s Portland Road property in Dartmouth, “but they believed that the vehicle had not moved for some time as it had snow on it,” read the affidavit.

At 2:19am, RCMP in Portapique were able to more fully investigate the killer’s warehouse, and discovered that there were two, not just one, burned out decommissioned Ford Taurus police cruisers.

After Lisa Banfield came out of the woods at 6:30am and said the killer had a police car stocked with guns, and after her sister provided a photo of a fully decaled replica police car, the RCMP were evidently confused. At around 7:30am, officers in Portapique “confirmed that there were no signs of firearms in the two burned out Ford Taurus former police cruisers in the driveway of the gunman’s Portapique cottage and at his warehouse,” reads the affidavit. “Up to this point, through computer record queries, the RCMP were aware of three decommissioned police Ford Taurus cars associated to the gunman and all three had been accounted for: two burned in Portapique and a third parked at his Dartmouth residence.”

But then at around 9:30am, “the RCMP received a 911 call reporting a woman deceased on the road near Wentworth and that an RCMP car was seen leaving the scene, heading towards Truro.” The deceased was Lillian Hyslop, a woman who was simply walking her dog at Wentworth Provincial Park.

“At about 9:47 am, an RCMP member in the Glenholme area passed a marked RCMP vehicle which he believed to be the gunman, who was wearing a high visibility vest,” reads the affidavit. “The RCMP member turned around in an effort to catch up to the gunman, but could not locate the vehicle.”

That’s likely because the killer had pulled off the highway and into the Glenholme couple’s driveway. By 9:52, RCMP officers were at the couple’s house, but the killer had already left. Just 10 minutes later, at 10:02am, “multiple 911 calls” came in concerning the two women who had been shot dead in their cars on Plains Road — VON nurses Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien.

Then, finally, “at 10:17 am, the RCMP tweeted a photo of the gunman’s replica RCMP vehicle.”

Campbell defends use of Twitter

Throughout the affidavit, Campbell defends the use of Twitter to alert the public about the ongoing crime spree, and tries to explain why the emergency alert system wasn’t utilized.

He explains that Twitter was used eight times.

At 11:32pm on April 18, “the RCMP issued a message on Twitter advising that the RCMP were in Portapique and asking the public to avoid the area, to stay in their homes and to lock their doors.”

At 8:02am on April 19,” RCMP released another Twitter message of an active shooter situation in Portapique. Residents were asked to stay inside their homes and to lock their doors.” This was about an hour and a half after Lisa Banfield had said the killer was driving a replica police car, and also after a nearby resident told police that he had seen a police car leaving Portapique via a farm road.

At 8:54am, “RCMP released another Twitter message of an active shooter situation in Portapique advising the public there were several victims. The message named the gunman, and included his photo and physical description. The message also alerted the public that he was armed and dangerous, and included a warning not to approach and to call 911 if seen.” The tweet did not, however, suggest that the killer may not be in Portapique, or that he might be driving a replica police car.

At 10:04am — 12 minutes after the couple in Glenholme called 911 — “RCMP tweeted that the gunman was in the Glenholme area and directed people to stay inside and lock their doors.”

As we’ve seen above, after the murders of Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien were discovered, at 10:17am “the RCMP tweeted a photo of the gunman’s replica RCMP vehicle with identifying call sign of 28811.”

Four minutes later, at 10:21am, “the RCMP tweeted the gunman’s last known location was in the Central Onslow/ Debert area”

After Cst. Heidi Stephenson and Joey Webber were murdered, “the RCMP updated the public via a tweet at 11:04 am that the gunman was last seen travelling southbound on Highway 102 from Brookfield, and again at 11:06 am that the gunman was now believed to be driving an SUV. [Webber’s vehicle].”

Campbell explains:

Based on previous experience, particularly with respect to the 2014 Moncton mass shooting during which three RCMP members were killed and another two members were shot, social media posts or ‘tweets’ have been considered an effective way to communicate quickly with the public. This determination has been based on the direct access to social media by the police, and the fact that RCMP social media is monitored by and rebroadcast or reported on by news media.

I am aware that, shortly before the gunman was killed, Nova Scotia provincial Emergency Management Office officials contacted the RCMP to offer the use of the province’s Alert Ready system. To my knowledge, at the time of these events, no police force in Canada had used a provincial emergency alert in relation to an active shooter event. The RCMP accepted the offer and were in the process of preparing the alert when the gunman was shot and killed by RCMP members.

Confusion

Campbell’s affidavit relates a confusing situation, with police responding to multiple reports of gunshots, and members of the public calling in mistaken reports of seeing the gunman.

At one point, police officers on the scene in Portapique saw a man walking down the road with a flashlight, and thought he may have been the killer. The man ran into the woods, presumably because he thought the police officers were the killers. Hours later, the man was found and cleared of suspicion; the affidavit doesn’t say if the incident may have led the RCMP to believe that the killer was still in Portapique.

At several times, people living to the west of Portapique River — that is, across the river from the community of Portapique — called 911 to report gunfire, taking police resources away from Portapique. None of those reports of gunfire turned out to be factual.

And the next morning, people were calling 911 with incorrect information. One person, for example, saying “that an RCMP vehicle with markings ‘28811’ on its side was seen on Highway 101, between Kentville and Sackville, heading towards Halifax.” Neither the gunman nor his car were anywhere near Highway 101.

Read the affidavit here.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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6 Comments

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  1. RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell absolutely MUST realize how negligence played out in early hours of one day to mid morning the next unless it’s Nova Scotia Emergency Alert’s job to check around for possible emergencies. Imagine the minutes necessary to fire off an alert when it’s as simple as “fake police car, fake officer randomly killing people from this point onward. Get off the highway ASAP!!!!

    1. In a lot of places, something akin to the emergency alert system is used to warn about tsunamis, which might have an hour or two to hit land. Increasingly, places are using them to warn of earthquakes, which might at the extreme need 10 minutes warning, and usually a lot less time. And those places manage to effectively warn people.

  2. You say “He explains that Twitter was used eight times. At 11:32pm on April 19, “the RCMP issued a message…”

    I think you mean April 18th

    Alex

  3. When a ‘wood screw’ is called for, you dare not use a ‘finish nail’. Surely, those reviewing the contents of this affidavit will see that.

  4. The explanation of why they didn’t use the Emergency Alert Ready System is absurd; the fact that it didn’t spring to mind that twitter may not be the best way to alert the affected public that a gunman was operating in a rural area suggests to me that the people in charge of making decisions at the upper echelons of the RCMP in this province don’t possess the critical thinking skills necessary for the job. The fact that the Alert Ready system had been used for other time-sensitive, potentially dangerous and deadly events should have been enough for someone to have the bright idea to contact EMO and see if they could maybe make some history and use it for an active gunman.