Today was the first day that the Mass Casualty Commission really engaged with the evidence that has been gathered regarding the tragic killings of April 18 – 19, 2020. Commission Counsel, senior legal aid lawyer, Roger Burrill, presented from the “Portapique April 18-19, 2020” Foundational Document. This is a 91-page summary prepared by the Commission that covers the first hour or so of the killing spree, up to the time when the shooter was able to escape Portapique.
Certainly, given the subject matter, portions of the presentation will have been difficult for some to hear. Much of the content has been covered already by the Global News podcast, “13 Hours”, and by Paul Palango through his investigative journalism.
The methodology adopted by the Commission means that we do not yet know how many, if any, of the individuals mentioned in the narrative presented today will be called to give individual testimony. In the Foundational Document, there are links to source documents, though these links are not yet active, so it will be difficult for anyone other than the parties involved (who have access to those source documents) to determine the veracity of individual statements.
Generally, Mr. Burrill seemed to be fair about how he characterized what was known to have happened, and what conclusions have been made by inference. Where there were some precise timeframes available thanks to telephone records or timestamps on photographs, that was stated. When the narrative was relying on witness statements and observations, and would thus necessarily be less reliable, that was noted as well.
There were several 911 phone calls made that night, which would have given the police a clear understanding that the shooter was Gabriel Wortman, and that he was driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Crucially, the evidence identifies a particular point where the killer was nearly within sight of the police, and could have been pursued within the community. He was not, and was able to escape using a blueberry field road, the existence of which would have been known to local residents.
The evidence describes a rural community where neighbors reacted as good citizens and neighbors would be expected to do in a rural community when they heard noises and observed buildings on fire. People left their homes to investigate the situation to see if there was anything they could do, and several calls were made to 911. Unfortunately, the instinct or decisions to be helpful led to some of these good people being killed.
In terms of significant new evidence (or perhaps it would be better to say descriptions of evidence, since none of this was given as testimony, per se), the revelation that the killer was practically in sight of the RCMP officers as they were being told by one of the killers neighbors that he had just been shot, seems to be the most significant in terms of the mandate of the Commission.
Also new is the mention that the DNA of Corrie Ellison was found on the killer’s boots. There had been some speculation that Mr. Ellison may have been accidentally shot by an officer in the confusion of the search, but this fact would certainly run counter to that theory.
For those who had not previously heard, or read any of the reports of the 911 call made by the McCully and Blair children, who ranged in age from 8-12, the poise and courage which they displayed, while in close proximity to the killer, and under impossibly difficult circumstances, may have made the strongest impression of anything that was outlined by Mr. Burrill.
We will find out more tomorrow what the police and other first responders may have known as events were unfolding. It is clear from the evidence unveiled today that they either knew, or should have known, by 11 PM on April 18, 2020, who the killer was, that he was disguised as a police officer, and that there was a chance he had escaped.