Slain RCMP officer went down in a gunfight with Nova Scotia mass shooter, inquiry hears | CBC News

Const. Heidi Stevenson grabbed her pistol and began shooting at Nova Scotia’s mass killer after he rammed her vehicle head-on, with the officer managing to fire 14 shots and injure the gunman’s head before she was killed.

New documents released Monday detail what the commission leading a public inquiry believes happened at Shubenacadie, N.S., on April 19, 2020, when the gunman, who was disguised as a Mountie and had already murdered 19 people, shot and injured RCMP Const. Chad Morrison and then killed Stevenson and bystander Joey Webber.

All three were shot in the space of seven minutes, before the killer took off. The details of what happened are laid out in interviews, radio logs and 911 transcripts gathered by the Mass Casualty Commission.

“The whole thing, it was … tough. It hit me, hit me pretty hard,” Sgt. Darren Bernard, one of the first officers to find Stevenson’s body, said in an interview with RCMP in July 2020.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. 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)

The commission is tasked with examining the events of April 18 and 19, 2020, when Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people, including a pregnant woman, during the course of a 13-hour rampage through several rural communities.

Stevenson was the most senior member on duty at the RCMP’s Enfield, N.S., detachment on the morning of April 19, and directed where her team members should go as shift supervisor.

Throughout the morning Stevenson saw the messages sent out to all RCMP members about the gunman’s identity, that he was considered armed and dangerous, and potentially using a Ford Taurus that looked like a fully marked RCMP cruiser.

Around 8:15 a.m. Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers, the risk manager at the Operational Communications Centre in Bible Hill, N.S., broadcast on the Hants East radio channel that all members should wear their hard body armour during their shift “just in the event you come across this vehicle.”

At 10:39 a.m. Briers asked for two Enfield members who were trained to use carbine rifles to go to Colchester. Stevenson had failed the course when she’d taken it two years earlier, so she sent constables Austin Comeau and Chris Gibson. 

A few minutes later, Stevenson heard on the radio an unknown marked cruiser had been spotted in the community of Brookfield.

“Chad, if there’s anything to that last one, I’m gonna make my way to your position,” Stevenson said over the radio at 10:44 a.m. to Morrison. She headed south on Highway 215 toward Shubenacadie where he was parked.

Morrison shot by gunman

Morrison was sitting at the intersection of a side road just north of the Shubenacadie River and Highway 2 when he spotted a cruiser coming toward him, driving south. 

He had his carbine sitting in the passenger seat beside him, and had just pulled on his body armour. Morrison asked over the radio who was approaching his location, and Stevenson replied it was her, which put Morrison at ease.

But the gunman was in fact behind the wheel, and turned into the side road where Morrison had pulled back to do a U-turn. He pulled up alongside Morrison’s car, and there was “a one- or two-second freeze where I went, that’s not Heidi.”

The gunman shot Morrison from his mock cruiser multiple times at 10:48 a.m., and Morrison later told police he started screaming as he hit the gas and sped away into Highway 2. He hit both guardrails before straightening out and heading south.

“Glass was breaking and I was hearing things go off and I felt … something in my chest and I felt like, things happening in my arms and I know I had this gash on my face,” Morrison said.

Morrison radioed that he’d been shot by the suspect in a police cruiser, and when asked about his injuries said, “I don’t know what; I’m–I’m OK.” He took the western ramp of the highway interchange into Shubenacadie and went to the Emergency Health Services base in Milford.

Stevenson and shooter have gunfight

Stevenson never made it to Morrison. When she entered the Shubenacadie interchange, taking the ramp from the village up to Highway 2, the gunman crossed over the oncoming lane to enter the one-way ramp and crashed into Stevenson’s police car at 10:49 a.m.

Stevenson and the gunman each fired at each other, and 14 casings from Stevenson’s service pistol were later found on the floor of her car. The commission said while witness testimonies conflict on whether Stevenson left the car on her own or was pulled out by the gunman, forensic evidence suggests she had exited her vehicle and was facing in the direction of the perpetrator during the exchange of gunfire.

The radio she wore was activated at 10:49:40 a.m. as well as three other times after the collision, with sounds of gunfire transmitting twice between 10:49 a.m. and 10:50 a.m.

During this time the gunman was likely struck in the head with bullet fragments and debris from Stevenson’s return fire, the commission documents said.

The RCMP officer who later spotted the gunman at a gas station in Enfield and killed him noticed a small trickle of blood running down the man’s forehead.

Elaine Mosher-Whitman and her husband, Gerald Whitman, watched the gunman’s shootout with Stevenson from their house nearby and took photos. At one point Mosher-Whitman said she saw Stevenson run back to her car “and there was shooting, and she fell.”

Krista Hughes climbs over a guardrail while gathering flowers that had blown away from a makeshift memorial for Stevenson, who was shot dead during Nova Scotia’s mass shooting. (Tim Krochak/Reuters)

The gunman approached Stevenson and shot her at close range as she lay outside her police car, before taking her pistol and two magazines. He did not take her portable radio.

Webber, the gunman’s next victim, was out getting furnace oil and was making his way through Shubenacadie when he came upon Stevenson and the shooter.

He stopped and got out of his SUV, acting as a “Good Samaritan,” according to witness Elizabeth Small, who had been driving by with her husband and stopped when they saw the cruisers collide.

Multiple witnesses reported seeing the gunman direct Webber into the back seat of his mock cruiser, where he shot him. The gunman then moved all his guns to Webber’s SUV, and took gas cans out of his mock cruiser and set it on fire.

“I never seen someone that looked so casual in my life,” Dean Martin, who had watched from his home just north of the scene, told police about the gunman. “It’s like, wasn’t getting excited, he wasn’t, he was just kinda taking it out, like it was an average day.”

Joey Webber stands beside his stock car in 2005 after a race at Scotia Speedworld near Enfield, N.S. Webber was shot and killed by the gunman during the mass shooting in April 2020. (Scotia Speedworld Memories/Facebook)

At 10:55 a.m. the gunman left the interchange in Webber’s silver SUV and headed south on the western prong of Highway 224.

Just two minutes later, the police emergency response team arrived and found Stevenson. They determined she was dead, and moved her body further down the ramp so it was away from the two cruisers on fire.

Witness Craig van der Kooi had been one of the people watching as the gunman killed Stevenson and Webber, and had taken photos of the silver SUV the gunman stole from Webber. He shared the photos with the tactical team members when they arrived, and told them it was an older model SUV like a Chevy Tracker, although it was in fact a Ford Escape. 

The officers decided they had to keep chasing the gunman, and took off. 

Officers stay with Stevenson

Sgt. Darren Bernard of Millbrook was the next officer to arrive at 11:04 a.m., just ahead of Enfield officers Comeau and Gibson. He said later he hadn’t heard anything about emergency response members being at the scene, but found it hard to hear anything because the radio was “complete chaos.”

When he rolled up to the interchange ramp, there was smoke everywhere, the grass was on fire and it was very hard to see, Bernard said. He added they couldn’t approach the cruisers due to the blasting heat of the fires.

Comeau spotted a body on the ground, and Bernard recognized Stevenson, who’d been his friend for 25 years.

“I said, ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Heidi,'” and thought, “Did that fu–ker shoot her here?'”

Bernard felt for Stevenson’s pulse and performed CPR, but after seeing her wounds realized “she was gone.”

RCMP investigators search for evidence April 23, 2020, at the location where Stevenson was killed along the highway in Shubenacadie, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Bernard sat beside Stevenson’s body for some time, and heard Const. Craig Hubley over the radio about a half hour later report he’d shot the gunman at an Enfield gas station.

“I know Heidi very well and … I did not expect to see her that day. So I was, struggling,” Bernard later said. “It was quite … a shocker, and … knocked the wind out of my sails that day.”

Morrison hides behind EHS depot

Around the same time, Morrison had arrived at the EHS base in Milford. He kicked at the door but didn’t get an immediate answer so he grabbed his carbine and went to hide behind the building in case the gunman had followed.

Paramedics had been warned of the active shooter situation and told to not go outside if possible.

Morrison had already lost a lot of blood and felt his arms and hands growing weak, but was able to use his vehicle radio to broadcast where he was and that he needed help.

“I went out into the woods and I just kind of crouched … and I was just sitting there, with my hands kind of hanging down and just bleeding,” Morrison later told police. “That’s when I was just kind of spiraling.”

A few minutes after he arrived, RCMP dispatch phoned the two paramedics at the base and told them Morrison was hiding outside. They saw the cruiser outside and followed a trail of blood to where Morrison was sitting in the grass.

Body armour protected Mountie from gunshot

“I’m the good guy, I’m the good guy. Please help me,” paramedic Daniel Storgato said Morrison called out.

The inquiry documents said Morrison had a gunshot wound in the crook of his left arm, while another bullet had passed through his right arm and fractured a bone. The paramedics also noted bruising to his chest from a suspected third gunshot but he was “protected by flak jacket.”

While they were treating Morrison, Storgato said they heard word of Stevenson on his portable radio and turned it off “so he didn’t have to hear that.”

Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, which represents active RCMP members below the rank of inspector, said in a statement their hearts are with Stevenson’s friends, family and colleagues as the inquiry goes through the details of her “brave actions and the circumstances surrounding her murder in the line of duty.”

“The wounds of grief are still open for all those impacted,” Sauvé said.

The group also recognized the “heroic actions” of Morrison who was shot while on duty looking to stop the gunman, Sauvé said, and they honour his service.

The inquiry will take a break from public hearings on Tuesday, and return on Wednesday when documents about the death of the final victim, Gina Goulet, and the events at the Enfield gas station will be presented.

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