The Mass Casualty Commission proceedings today included two presentations on Foundational Documents by Commission lawyer, Roger Burrill. These presentations revealed several missed opportunities to stop the killer, a terrifying (seemingly impromptu) visit, and two tragic deaths.
After killing Lillian Campbell while she was out walking, the killer proceeded south on Highway 4, which would have eventually led him back to the TransCanada Highway and Masstown. At 9:47 AM, Cpl. Rodney Peterson met the killer’s mock RCMP vehicle while Cpl. Peterson was traveling north on Highway 4. He immediately radioed that he thought he had encountered the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, Cpl. Peterson did not immediately turn his vehicle around to follow the killer, but rather waited until he felt he had a safe spot to make a U-turn, which turned out to be 1.2 km beyond the meeting point. By the time he turned around to pursue the killer, he was out of sight.
The Commission will have to confront the difficult issue of how aggressive police should be in active shooter situations. This meeting is one of several examples where it appears that more aggressive action would have been appropriate. Being aggressive is dangerous, of course, but police are supposed to protect citizens from danger, and so the Commission will need to think about what an appropriate level of personal risk for a police officer might be.
Cpl. Peterson continued to drive south towards the TransCanada Highway, hoping to catch up. Meanwhile, the killer had turned into the driveway of Adam and Carole Fisher, a couple who were known to him, though not well. (The killer had asked Mr. Fisher to give him a quote on an excavating job some years prior, and had been to their home before.) Wortman drove up the driveway, parked his mock cruiser where it could not be seen from the road, and with gun in hand knocked on Fisher’s door.
The Fishers did not answer the door, and in fact each of them had called 911 to alert the police of the killer’s presence. Adam Fisher had actually also called 911 earlier when he found out the name of the killer, to let the police know about the vehicles owned by Wortman. (The killer had told Fisher about his plans to assemble a mock RCMP vehicle some years earlier.)
Unfortunately, because they were hiding out of sight in their home, the Fishers were not able to advise that the killer had left after just over two minutes in their yard. It would seem that the killer had only gone into this familiar location to elude Cpl. Peterson, as when he left he went north, rather than following Cpl. Peterson’s route south.
Believing the killer was still at the Fisher’s residence, approximately 40 officers, including the ERT members “staged” at the highway near the residence, and slowly made their way through the woods and up the driveway.
It is unclear what use, if any, of the helicopter may have been at this time. This will be a question that is addressed in a future Foundational Document, but it seems that the helicopter was not effective in any way during the ongoing pursuit.
The police seemed entirely focused on the one possible location of the killer, and appear not to have made any effort to block off surrounding roads, such as Plains Road. This road goes through Debert, and surveillance video from several businesses in the community show the killer driving has marked police cruiser east through Debert. The killer was not driving unusually fast, and witnesses in vehicles that were driving either in front or behind the vehicle did not have any sense that it was anything other than a regular police car.
Kristin Beaton was working that morning, traveling to clients’ homes as part of her work for the VON. She had pulled over to check her phone and text with her husband when the killer pulled over next to her, went to her window and shot her. Some passersby witnessed the interaction, though not the actual shooting.
Heather O’Brien was also working for VON, though at the moment was going to visit her grandchildren for her weekly Sunday socially distanced visit. She was on the phone with her friend when she was pulled over by Wortman and killed not far away from Ms. Beaton.
911 calls alerted police that these further killings had taken place, and therefore the police knew to leave the Fisher residence. The killer drove south on MacElmond Road back towards Hwy 2/4 between Portapique and Truro, and headed east on Hwy 2/4, passing the Onslow Fire Hall some minutes later.
Not knowing where exactly the killer may have been, one may have expected that supervisors would have deployed the many officers available to various locations to block off roads in the area. One may also have expected the officers to be more aggressive at this stage of the situation, knowing that the killer was still active, and extremely dangerous to all members of the public.
The Commission proceedings will resume on April 11th with an account of the Onslow Fire Hall shooting fiasco. Some details from today’s foundational documents will be relevant to the Fire Hall shootings. First, Cpl. Peterson had stated over the radio that the killer was wearing a reflective vest. Secondly, there was a brief, potentially dangerous, gathering of police vehicles on Highway 4, where one set of officers in a borrowed police vehicle did not have all of their systems active, and the vehicle driven by Cst. Brown and Cst. Melanson (who shot at the Fire Hall) was noted not to have GPS capabilities.
Cst. Brown and Cst. Melanson had indicated in the statements that they shot at the Fire Hall because they saw someone standing in front of the building wearing a reflective vest. The GPS issue is relevant because there are conflicting accounts as to where the officers initially stopped, and from what location they began shooting.