Neighbors tried to alert police to Portapique gunman’s misuse, weapons

Long before his murderous rampage in April 2020, two former neighbors of Gabriel Wortman saw “red flags” in his behavior and were wary of everything he said and did.

“He always brought up that perception, ‘Hey, I’m easygoing, sympathetic,'” recalled George Forbes in an interview with the commission currently investigating the murder of 22 people on April 18-19, 2020.

“There are people you can read between the lines about what they’re saying…and I noticed there was some dysfunction in his personality and some disorderly traits that I took as warning signs.”

George and his wife, Brenda, tried to warn others about the gunman, but they say their warnings were ignored.

The couple are both retired from the military. They moved to Portapique in the summer of 2002 and met Wortman about eight months later when he was looking for a property to buy. They eventually became neighbors.

Brenda Forbes told CBC News in an interview this week that Mass Casualty Commission officials kept her informed about the public hearings. She and her husband were both interviewed in the weeks immediately following the shooting as RCMP and the commission tried to find out what had happened and why.

Twenty-two people died on April 18-19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

Warned shooter for dangerous firefight

The Forbes said that when Wortman found out about their military background, he tried to get information about weapons from them and asked each of them if they could buy him weapons or ammunition. The couple refused.

Brenda told the committee that when she asked Wortman where he got his weapons from, he replied, “I have my connections.”

George Forbes, a retired handgun instructor, said Wortman did not handle firearms safely, including checking that they were loaded when he showed them.

At one point, George Forbes confronted Wortman about firing his guns into the mudflats exposed at low tide.

“You gotta stop this, man, because all you have to do is hit one rock and you’ll get a ricochet that goes somewhere else that you can’t control,” Forbes said, relaying his conversation with the gunman to police. Commission.

He said Wortman dismissed his concerns and said it was just fun.

Past attempts to involve the police

Commissioners Leanne Fitch, Michael MacDonald, chairman, and Kim Stanton, from left to right, listen as Benjamin Sampson, a firearms expert with the Ontario government, appears on video and provides technical information during the Mass Casualty Commission’s investigation into the massacres of rural Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020, in Dartmouth, NS, on May 3, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

George Forbes said he chose not to call the RCMP about the backyard shooting because his wife had already contacted police about another incident involving Wortman that didn’t get very far.

Her complaint related to illegal weapons that she had seen in Wortman’s possession. She said the police would not respond to her information, as it was not current or reliable enough.

“I’m still a little upset that they didn’t move forward with it,” Brenda Forbes said in an interview with CBC.

“And basically say that if I didn’t have any real evidence, like pictures and things like that. I don’t feel like it and so they said they didn’t have enough information, so yeah, that still annoys me.”

When Brenda Forbes called the RCMP in 2013, it was to report what she’d heard secondhand: that Wortman had pinned his longtime partner, Lisa Banfield, to the ground and beat her while three other men watched.

Forbes told police what she was told, but said the officers who responded told her they couldn’t do anything without information from a direct witness.

Forbes said other people in the community — including one of the witnesses to the abuse — would not report Wortman’s actions to police because they feared him.

Forbes said she got a similar response from Banfield when she told Forbes that she was being beaten.

Forbes said she told Banfield to leave and get help, but said Banfield refused because she was afraid Wortman would kill her.

The officer’s notes make no mention of domestic violence

Chief Sidney Peters, Mary Teed, Rev. Nicole Uzans, Ernest Asante Korankye and Alana Hirtle, left to right, discuss life in rural Nova Scotia during the Mass Casualty Commission investigation into the April 18-19 2020 massacres in Halifax on February 23, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

When RCMP was initially confronted with allegations from Forbes that she had not properly responded to a domestic violence complaint, RCMP said they had not recorded her call.

But a subsequent search of their records in the months following the mass shooting found an officer’s notes about a phone call involving Forbes.

const. Troy Maxwell, the RCMP officer who took up Forbes’ complaint on July 6, 2013, provided the committee with a page of his notes.

According to the RCMP’s internal review of their file on the Forbes complaint, Maxwell recalled concerns that Wortman was acting “aggressively in the neighbourhood.” During the investigation, no indications were found in the administration that it involved domestic violence.

Maxwell went to Portapique’s cottage twice, with two different colleagues, with “negative results”, and there were no details about the complaint.

Brenda Forbes said she tried to warn Banfield that she had seen Wortman with other women when Banfield was not with him in Portapique.

But Forbes said that when Wortman found out, he dragged Banfield to Forbes’ house to confront her.

“And he said, ‘You told her I was screwing her,’ and I said, ‘If the shoe fits, wear it,'” Forbes said this week.

“He grabbed her and pulled her out of the house. And from that day on, she wasn’t allowed to talk to me anymore.”

Harassed from home

The Mass Casualty Commission began public hearings on February 22, 2022. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Forbes said Wortman started following her and would park in front of the house every day when she got home.

“I would hide my car in the woods so he wouldn’t know I was home because I noticed he was following me,” she said.

“And he’d come to the house and just stare at it, point to it and he’d be there for about half an hour. And then I think he realized maybe I’m not home, but he’d do it every day, then my husband was gone. He knew my husband wasn’t there.”

When George Forbes returned from a job he had done in Africa, his wife told him to leave Portapique, which they did in 2014. George Forbes said they were so eager to escape that they took a $100,000 loss on the sale of their home.

Brenda Forbes still lives with severe PTSD, partly as a result of her encounters with Wortman, and said her hopes are that everyone hurt by the tragedy gets the support they need to move forward.

“I’m helping other people with post-traumatic stress disorder…all the people who are really affected by this need the same kind of help,” she said. “And I would bend down to give them that help.”

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