This article contains graphic descriptions of murder.
Saturday, April 18, 2020, was April Dares’ birthday, so her Hunter Road neighbours Carlyle and Cindy Brown invited her over for a small get-together that afternoon at their riverside cottage. They were joined by the Browns’ next door neighbours, Sean McLeod and Alana Jenkins, and another couple from down the road, Jody and Shelly MacBurnie.
“We were safely distanced,” said Dares of the pandemic gathering.
The seven sat outside on the Browns’ deck, their chairs six feet away from each other. They had a few beers. It wasn’t a raging party; they met for a couple of hours, and by 6:30 or 7pm, the visitors all left the Browns’ house on their four-wheelers, returning to their respective houses.
Hunter Road is an idyllic country road north of Wentworth, winding its away north from Highway 4 alongside the Wallace River. There are a few cottages like the Browns’, back in the woods next to the river, and a handful of houses on the opposite side of the road. People along the road pretty much all know each other. They keep in touch via a community Facebook group.
That night, 50 kilometres away, hell descended upon Portapique as a gunman killed 13 of his neighbours and burned multiple houses.
The next morning, April 19, back on Hunter Road, April Dares woke early and sat on her deck. At around 6:30am, she heard a car moving slowly on the gravel road. Dares could recognize the distinctive sound that each of her neighbours’ cars makes on the gravel, and this car wasn’t any of theirs. She found it strange that an unknown car would be driving so slowly at that hour of the day.
About 10 minutes later, she heard a dog bark. It sounded like a big dog. “I was trying to place who had a big dog,” she said. Then she heard a single gunshot, followed by three yelps. “And I was like, ‘what the hell, what’s that?’”
Dares headed inside to start her day, but couldn’t shake the sound of the dog.
“It was really bothering me,” she said. “Don’t ask me why I did this, but I jumped in my truck and went down the road, ’cause I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, is there like a dog somewhere?’ and I drove down the road but… in my head I was thinking I knew the place where the dog bark was coming from… and I was heading towards Sean and Alanna’s and I was two driveways from them and a little voice just said, ‘OK, go home.’ And I listened, thank goodness.”
She turned around and went back home.
• • •
Carlyle and Cindy Brown were still in bed when they too heard a single rifle shot followed by a yelp. Carlyle told Cindy that their neighbour Sean McLeod had probably shot a coyote. The Browns shared a driveway with Jenkins and McLeod, and the two houses are about 175 metres apart, separated by thick woods.
Carlyle Brown got out of bed, started the fire, put the coffee pot on. “Within an hour,” he heard two more shots. He guessed that Sean was chasing a bear away.
Cindy Brown got out of bed around 8:30 or 8:45am, and the two were drinking coffee when they saw smoke coming from their neighbours’ property, “so I thought Sean must be burning something,” said Carlyle. Another 10 or 15 minutes passed, “everything turned dark… I looked at my wife and I said… ‘there’s too much smoke.’ So I put my boots on and my coat, still in my pyjamas, uh pyjama pants, and I just got off the patio and then I hear another shot.”
It was then around 9:30, Carlyle guessed.
“There was something wrong,” he said. “Because there was just too much smoke, gunfire. I had watched the news all morning, and said, ‘oh, you know, this guy is here.’ And just then, we received a telephone call from our neighbours — ‘get off the road!’”
Brown packed his wife and their dog into their vehicle and left their property. But rather than go directly to Hunter Road, they turned where their shared driveway forked off to the Jenkins/McLeod house.
“The whole side of the house was engulfed,” said Brown. “The flames were easily 20 feet high… I just looked at the wife and said, ‘there’s nothing we can do, we got to get out of here.’”
They turned around and headed to Hunter Road, and just then heard a loud explosion. Along Hunter Road they ran into other people coming to investigate the fire and explosion, and they told them to flee.
• • •
Jody MacBurnie was awakened at 7am by his phone. Someone he knew in Masstown was messaging MacBurnie on Facebook to say something terrible had happened in Portapique.
MacBurnie’s first cousin was Greg Blair, who lived on Orchard Beach Road in Portapique. MacBurnie also worked for Blair, at Blair’s company, G.B. Gas & Energy in Truro.
So MacBurnie got out of bed and called Greg Blair’s son Tyler, and learned the terrible news that Greg and his wife Jamie had been murdered.
“He said they’re both gone, Greg and Jamie,” said MacBurnie. “Then he told me that the two boys got out, his youngest sons, and then we just kind of had a brief conversation and he said that the guy that did it, his name was Gabriel and he was a dentist from Portapique… I said I’m sorry, and then I got off the phone with him.”
Jody and Shelly MacBurnie talked about the deaths and about Jody’s conversation with Tyler, and then it occurred to them both at the same time that Jody’s best friend and Hunter Road neighbour Sean McLeod knew a guy named Gabriel who lived in Portapique.
About a year before, McLeod had told MacBurnie about Gabriel, that he was a denturist who had come by Hunter Road to fix one of his teeth.
“He said he’s got all kinds of money,” said MacBurnie. “He said he’s got like bikes there, and cars, all these old cars… it wasn’t no RCMP cruiser, that’s for sure.”
MacBurnie was concerned, so he texted McLeod. There was no response.
“Sean and I text all the time,” said MacBurnie, “so I knew when he didn’t reply something was wrong. So I messaged his partner Alanna… they’re both my best friends. Alanna didn’t reply, so I instantly got worried.”
MacBurnie thought about driving over to the Jenkins/McLeod house, but Shelly convinced him to call police instead.
“So I called the [RCMP’s] Oxford Detachment and this was shortly after 9[am], and I told them my concerns. I said I know what happened in Portapique and I said this guy Gabriel shot my boss, his wife, but my friend up here Sean knows this guy, and I said I’m concerned because he didn’t respond back to my text this morning. I said I’m scared something’s going on down there. And the officer said, ‘we’re really busy right now with everything going on, but we’ll try to get somebody up there sometime.’ I said OK.”
Right then, at 9:19am, MacBurnie was in his driveway, and “an RCMP cruiser drove by really slow. And I said to my wife, ‘something’s fucking weird,’ because I was on the phone with the RCMP and he said you know, maybe we’d get somebody up there whatever, so obviously they don’t know an RCMP was on my road.”
“We just got scared at that point,” said MacBurnie. “So I got my wife, my son, his girlfriend, all of our dogs all loaded up in the SUV and we drove out of this road because at that point I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’”
• • •
Tom and Patsy Bagley lived on Hunter Road about 400 north metres from the Brown and Jenkins/McLeod residences. As usual, they got up around 6:30 and had a couple of cups of coffee together.
Then at about 8:45am, Tom set out for his regular morning walk. But he quickly returned, saying it was a bit colder than he had anticipated. He grabbed a scarf, and patted the head of a little dog he had gotten for Patsy; “Daddy will see you in a bit,” he said.
Patsy watched as Tom walked to the end of driveway with his walking stick, and turned right, heading south.
• • •
Around 9:15am, April Dares was in her kitchen, “just getting a coffee or whatever.” She looked out the kitchen window and saw a police car on the road. “It wasn’t going fast, not slow, not fast, just kind of suturing down the road… It was white with the decals on it, it looked obviously like a police car.”
“I thought, oh, maybe it had something to do with that gunshot I heard.”
Dares posted onto the community Facebook page: “Did anyone hear gunshot early this morning?”
Almost immediately, Shelly MacBurnie called her. “She said that she had been trying to get ahold of Sean and Alanna and there was no answer and they were really worried,” said Dares. “They thought it was connected to the Portapique incident and I was trying to wrap my head around that. And she was like, ‘just get off the road, it’s really bad, just get off the road.’”
April got off the phone with Shelly and called 911.
• • •
The Mass Casualty Commission staff report recount the Hunter Road murders matter-of-factly:
Shortly after 6:35am, the perpetrator arrived at 2328 Hunter Road, the home of Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod. The perpetrator knew Ms. Jenkins and Mr. McLeod. He shot one of the family dogs at the residence and entered the home. It appears plausible based on the available evidence that the perpetrator shot Ms. Jenkins and may have shot Mr. McLeod before setting the house on fire. He took Mr. McLeod’s wallet from the scene. The house ultimately burned to the ground.
At approximately 8:50am, Tom Bagley left his home on foot for his usual morning walk along Hunter Road. He attended the Jenkins/McLeod residence and, at some point prior to 9:20am, was fatally shot by the perpetrator.
Tom Bagley’s body was later found near the burned house, the fire so intense that it had burned Bagley’s boots off his feet.
• • •
On their own, the residents along Hunter Road had figured out that their rural neighbourhood was the next target of the man who had killed so many people the night before in Portapique.
But 911 transcripts released by the Mass Casualty Commission show that hours before the Hunter Road residents came to that understanding, the RCMP was well aware of the name of the killer, that he was driving a look-alike RCMP cruiser, and that he was no longer in Portapique. However, police didn’t convey that information to the public until much later: the killer was named in an RCMP tweet at 8:54am, but the tweet suggested he was still in Portapique; a tweet at 10:04am was the first time the public was notified that the killer was seen outside Portapique, in Glenholme; it wasn’t until 10:17am that the RCMP mentioned the killer was driving a replica police car, in a tweet that provided a photo of the car that had been obtained by police at 7:22am. Throughout the morning, the province’s emergency alert system was never activated.
At 8:02am, an unnamed person at police dispatch talked to 911 operator Lisa Stewart: “the suspect may have a marked PC,” referring to a police cruiser.
Then Stewart called Melanie [last name unknown] at the RCMP Tantallon dispatch with an update. Stewart provided the full name of the suspect. “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.”
“Where’d he get all that?” asked Melanie.
“I have no idea,” responded Stewart.
“Amazing,” said Melanie.
“Also,” added Stewart, “I don’t know if we told you or not, [he’s] arrestable for homicide, possibly count of eight.”
In a call that starts at 8:06am, Sgt. Wayne Sutherland and Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers discussed the mocked up police car. “So he’s probably out of that area,” said Briers, referring to Portapique.
At about the same time, dispatcher Brittany Oulton called Jackie [last name unknown] at the Cobequid toll plaza with an update. Oulton again described the fake police car and added: “So we don’t know his location. So he could be anywhere in the province… and he is obviously very armed and dangerous.”
This was about 45 minutes before Tom Bagley patted his dog’s head and went out for his morning walk.
• • •
At 8:19am, Cst. Heidi Stevenson at the Enfield RCMP detachment called the dispatch centre. “We’re just trying to fill in a few gaps on the BOLOs [Be On the Look Out] and so forth,” said Stevenson. “Is it a decommissioned PC, or is it a full, an active PC? Does he have access to radios or light bar?”
Stevenson’s call was transferred to Stewart. “It definitely has a light bar,” said Stewart. Stewart is heard on the tape yelling back into her office, “Does it have a police radio in it, do we know?” A response comes from Briers: “Not on the system, I don’t know.”
Stevenson, still perplexed, asks “so it’s not even an H-Div car?” referring to the RCMP’s Halifax division, which covers all of Nova Scotia.
Stewart and Stevenson wrangled with a new-to-them software program over which Stewart is trying to send a photo of the car. Finally, she sends a “web view” of the photo.
“Unbelievable, this car,” said Stewart.
Stevenson is heard on the tape relating what she has learned to people in her office: “Taurus, flat light bar, they don’t know (indiscernible) so we don’t know what might be on, so like with the radio, they can’t activate anything. So it may have radio, it may not, and he may not know how to use it.”
Stevenson was still confused. “How do we know if there’s not a stolen vehicle?”
“And if it’s not, where did he get all the decals?” responded Stewart. “I guess you can make decals, right?”
“But can you just go out and buy a light bar?” asked Stevenson.
“On the web,” said Stewart.
“So you can get away with killing eight people,” said Stevenson. “All those poor kids with no parents anymore.”
• • •
At 8:24am, dispatcher Bryan Green began a call with an unnamed woman who appears to be staffing a checkpoint at the New Brunswick border. Green described the car, adding: “It’s an RCMP vehicle, it looks like an Oxford vehicle. It’s got Oxford numbers, which is twenty-eight as the first two digits.”
At 8:42am, a woman from the Sackville, New Brunswick dispatch centre called relating a concern that New Brunswick RCMP members called to Nova Scotia had. “My members on the highway are wondering if all the cars coming out of HRM would flick their lights when they see a PC … I guess they’re freaking out every time one drives by them. They have to see if the right numbers show up on the back.”
For the next hour and a half, the dispatch centre was overwhelmed with calls. Police discussed the car, noticing that the photo of it shows it has a dealer’s sticker on the window, so it isn’t a refurbished car bought at auction. People called in asking about their family members in Portapique, some of whom we now know were killed. Andrew MacDonald, the man who was shot but managed to drive out of Portapique, called asking if someone could go to his house and get his dog.
Then, at 9:32am, April Dares called and related that she heard gunshots.”[S]someone called me and mentioned the Portapique shooting,” said Dares. “And this this guy [Jody MacBurnie]… Actually, someone who lives on this road, he shot and killed his cousins [Greg and Jamie Blair] .. And he knows the people whoch could be down the road and possibly where I heard the gunshots.”
Dares again called 911 at 9:38am. “Now there’s a fire,” she said, “a bunch of smoke.”
• • •
Reginald and Mary-Ann Jay lived on Highway 4 in Wentworth, right across the highway from Wentworth Provincial Park. Wentworth has a lot of seasonal residents, and Reginald Day volunteered to perform security checks on properties when those residents are away.
Sometime after 9am on April 19, 2020, Reginald left his house to go check on a property to the north of Wentworth. As he drove towards the intersection of Highways 4 and 307, he noticed a police car stopped on the gravel median. “And it was strange because there was a big push bumper on the front,” he said. “You don’t see that very often out here. And I’m trying to figure out why he’s sitting there at that time in the morning on a Sunday morning, and I thought it was strange.”
Reginald performed his security check, and came back through the intersection four or five minutes later. The police car was still there.
It wasn’t the first time during the murder spree that the killer simply stopped for a while before continuing on. The night before, a man noticed an RCMP car stopped in the passing lane of Highway 104. And of course, the killer spent seven hours parked in the Debert business park.
Even after he left Debert and headed to Hunter Road, he seems to have dallied. A video camera at Angelina Pizza on Plains Road captures the passing fake police car at 5:45am, and then another video camera at a residence at 256 Highway 4 in Folly Lake sees it again at 6:10am, 25 minutes later. Google Maps says a car travelling at the speed limit should be able to make that drive in 13 minutes, which leaves at least 12 minutes unaccounted for. There’s no evidence he went anywhere else, so maybe he just stopped for a while, before continuing on.
What was he doing in these down times? It’s speculation, but perhaps he was mustering the perverse courage to continue killing.
• • •
Michael Hyslop and Lillian Campbell lived on Highway 242 in Wentworth. (Campbell has been named Lillian Hyslop in some previous media reports, including in the Examiner.)
On the morning of April 19, 2020, Hyslop and Campbell woke up and had their TV and radio on, their computers and devices at hand, but heard nothing of Portapique, and no public advisories had been issued. So just after 9am, Campbell went for her usual morning walk. She’d walk for an hour and a half or two hours every day; people along the roads knew her well, and she wore a distinctive reflective vest, for safety.
• • •
While her husband was performing security checks, Mary-Ann Jay sat in her quilting room, working on a project.
At about 9:30am, Mary-Ann heard a gun shot.
“I didn’t know where it was coming from,” she said, “but I got up off the chair I was sitting on and went to the window, and when I looked out the window there was an RCMP car slowly turning around and heading towards Truro, south. It was peculiar because of the way that car turned around. I mean, we see lots of RCMP cars chasing speeders and so on in this area. But he was very slow. There were no vehicles in front of him, nothing had passed in front of him that he would be chasing and he wasn’t acting like he was going to chase anyone. He sauntered down the road.”
“I looked across at the park to see if there was someone over there that may have been firing a gun. There was nobody around. I looked down the road, didn’t see anybody. I looked up the road, and I saw what I thought was a mannequin, a dummy, and I wondered, ‘why did the RCMP drop that mannequin on the side of the road?’ It didn’t make any sense.”
Mary-Ann looked again.
“And I recognized the clothing that this person was wearing,” said Mary-Ann. She walks by here every day… so when I recognized the clothing, I ran, left the room, ran down the stairs, out the front door, and ran down the street, to where she was laying on the side of the road.”
Lillian Campbell had been shot in the head, and was dead.
Mary-Ann ran back to the house to call 911. “She’s dead!” she yelled.
“OK, stay on the line” replied the 911 operator. “We’re gonna send you some help—”
“Oh my god! The RCMP just left,” interrupted Mary-Ann. “He turned around and left and went down the road.”
While Mary-Ann was on the phone with 911, Reginald collected a blanket to cover Lillian Campbell’s body.
“You need to ask your husband to come in to the house,” said the 911 operator.
“I can’t,” replied Mary-Ann. “People are going to stop… we can’t leave this woman lying on the side of the road.”
The narrative of the mass murders will continue tomorrow, with a look at what happened on Plains Road.