Nova Scotia mass shooter was treated ‘like an animal’ by his father, family say
Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
New details describe how the gunman who killed 22 people in the April 2020 massacre in Nova Scotia was raised in a hotbed of violence and psychological torment, growing up to continue the pattern set by a father he hated.
The Mass Casualty Commission which led the investigation into what happened on April 18 and 19, 2020, when Gabriel Wortman rampaged through the province in a fake RCMP car, released new documents on Monday about violence in Wortman’s family.
Police interviews with various members of Wortman’s family, as well as his common-law wife Lisa Banfield, describe how the shooter was abused for years by his father, Paul Wortman.
« He never treated him like a little boy. He treated him like an animal, » Glynn Wortman, Paul’s brother, said in a police interview shortly after the massacre.
Gabriel grew up as an only child in the Moncton, New Brunswick area with his parents Paul and Evelyn Wortman. He has a brother, his biological brother Jeff Samuelson, whom Paul and Evelyn had in 1970 in the United States and placed for adoption at birth.
Samuelson eventually learned of his birth family and met his parents and the shooter in 2010.
According to the founding document released on Monday, the commission has yet to interview members of the Wortman family through its own team, despite attempts to speak to some of them.
History of violence in the Wortman family
Investigative documents indicate that Paul has four brothers: Neil, Glynn, Alan and Chris. The two youngest brothers, Alan and Chris, are retired members of the RCMP.
In his statement to the RCMP after the mass shooting, Paul said he was raised in a violent family « [w]here, there was more than screams. »
Alan Wortman confirmed this in a police interview and said their father, Stanley – the shooter’s grandfather – was violent towards the three older brothers, but not towards their mother, himself or Chris.
In a letter to Samuelson after learning of his biological family, Neil described the history of the Wortman family and how the abuse goes back two generations to the shooter’s great-grandfather, George Wortman.
He wrote that George was « a bully who brutalized his family » and that his children, including Stanley, were « seriously biased ».
“All of them, to varying degrees, treated their wives and children the only way they knew how – the way their father treated his family members. Abused children often become abused parents,” Neil said.
Paul Wortman’s brothers also described several incidents of abuse against his wife Evelyn and said Gabriel witnessed them. One brother said they never reported the abuse because they were all « terrified » of Paul.
The shooter’s childhood and Paul himself were keys to understanding the whole rampage, Glynn told police, adding that Gabriel was « out of shape ».
There were various incidents that left a mark on the shooter, Banfield and others said, including a time when Paul drove his son alone down a dirt road and Gabriel was convinced his father was going to kill him.
Another time, Paul gave his son a gun and told him to shoot him.
During his interview with the RCMP, Paul said he « had a hell of a temper » and shouted a lot but « I never hit Gabriel ».
Samuelson said that Paul once told him a story about how when Gabriel was about two and a half years old, Paul decided that Gabriel no longer needed his favorite blanket « so he burned the friggen in front of him ».
Banfield and Neil told police that when the shooter was under 10, Paul had him kill the family dog.
« What does that do to a child? » Neil said.
During the April 2020 rampage, the shooter also shot multiple dogs.
Banfield said the shooter told him he didn’t think his mother was protecting him from abuse. As a result, Banfield said the shooter « had no respect for women, no respect for his father ».
The violence of the shooter towards his father
The shooter grew up and went to the University of New Brunswick, where he studied psychology. It was there that he met his first wife and became a funeral director and later opened a denturist practice in the Halifax area.
During a family trip to Cuba around 2000, the shooter assaulted his father, Paul, who said Gabriel beat him unconscious.
Banfield, who was also on the trip, said the fight started because Paul denied how he had treated the shooter as a child.
After the assault, Paul took Banfield aside and urged her to leave the shooter.
He told her, « I was a bastard to my wife, I was a bastard to my son, and Gabriel is going to do the same to you, » Banfield reminded police.
Threats against parents
There was another incident in June 2010 when the shooter phoned Glynn and told him he was going to his parents’ house in New Brunswick to kill them.
Paul spoke to a Halifax Regional Police officer at the time who was investigating the allegation and said his son had several serious weapons, including pistols and long barrel shotguns, without a licence.
But Paul hadn’t seen them himself in over five years, and without more information, the officer thought he couldn’t get a search warrant.
Speaking to police after the mass shooting, Paul said the massacre could have been avoided if « someone had put a little more pressure » around the threats.
Shooter’s medical history
According to medical records, the shooter was referred to psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Maynes in 2000.
The shooter saw Maynes four times. For these visits, the term listed under his theme is « narcissistic personality ».
He also saw Dr. Cynthia Forbes in Fall River for hypertension in 2009 and reported a « history of alcoholism », although the notes indicate he was planning to quit drinking this summer.
At the time, Forbes suggested the shooter see a psychologist to help manage his stress « but he wasn’t interested at this point. »
He didn’t return to Forbes until June 2018, and between then and January 2020 he visited seven times for treatment of « mild hypertension. »
« He had a horrible upbringing in a very dysfunctional family. And, uh, never asked for help…and…fell through the cracks, » Chris said.
Chris also told police he always knew the shooter was capable of killing someone, most likely his parents or Banfield, « but not to this extent. »
« That Could Have Been Me »
Samuelson said when he connected with his birth family in 2010, the revelation of having a long-lost sibling was a « major bombshell » for Gabriel.
The shooter had to go through a « horrible upbringing » alone, without a role model, Samuelson said.
Chris agreed with that point, telling police he believed much of the animosity between the shooter and his parents stemmed from them keeping his brother a secret.
“That could have been me up there if uh, you know, if I grew up in an environment like Gabriel,” Samuelson said.
On Monday, the inquest is also expected to hear from a panel of witnesses on mass shootings and masculinity, and an expert on domestic and family violence.