One of RCMP officers in command of N.S. mass shooting response testifies | CBC News

One of the commanding officers who led the initial RCMP response to Nova Scotia’s mass shooting says he momentarily thought a fellow officer might be the perpetrator behind the killings after a report of a marked police cruiser at the scene.

Steve Halliday, a retired staff sergeant, testified Tuesday at the inquiry examining the shootings that he was able to quickly discount that theory, and instead believed the vehicle connected to the gunman was in fact a decommissioned or old RCMP car.

Halliday is one of a number of officers who have testified at the inquiry that they didn’t imagine during the early hours of the rampage that the vehicle being driven by Gabriel Wortman, who killed 22 people on April 18-19, 2020, was nearly identical to a real police cruiser.

A new document released Tuesday by the commission conducting the inquiry details the RCMP command structure and decisions over the 13 hours the gunman was active, and lays out what each officer did and when.

At 10:35 p.m. on April 18, risk manager Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill called Halliday at home to tell him about a likely active shooter situation in Portapique, N.S., where multiple people had died, fires were set around the community and a police car was possibly involved.

As the risk manager on duty at the Operational Communications Centre in Bible Hill, N.S., Rehill had been in charge of the unfolding incident from the moment victim Jamie Blair called 911 at 10:01 p.m. She said her husband, Greg, had been shot by Wortman, a neighbour. She also said there had been an “RCMP car” in their yard.

She herself was then shot and killed by the gunman.

Halliday said Tuesday that Rehill told him Dave Lilly, a now-retired RCMP sergeant, had been brought up as being possibly connected since he owned property near Portapique.

“My first thought was ‘uh-oh,'” Halliday told the inquiry, adding he was worried Lilly had his marked cruiser with him in Portapique and had done something “heinous” in the community.

“I was really concerned that this could be the case,” Halliday said.

According to the inquiry documents, at 10:55 p.m. Halliday called Lilly directly. Lilly was at home, which wasn’t in Portapique, and it became clear he wasn’t involved in the active shooter situation.

A photo of the gunman’s decommissioned 2017 Ford Taurus that he made into a replica cruiser. (Mass Casualty Commission)

Halliday said once he realized Lilly wasn’t involved, the idea of the marked cruiser morphed to a decommissioned or older model of police car. He said from his experience, when people are caught up in traumatic situations their information can be “wrongly worded or misinterpreted.”

“That factored into my thought process at that time,” Halliday said.

The inquiry has also heard that the first three officers who searched for the gunman in Portapique didn’t ever imagine they were looking for someone in a fully marked police car that looked nearly identical to their own.

Halliday retired in January 2021 after 30 years with the Mounties in various roles. He had been an instructor for courses like immediate action rapid deployment, and had been in “numerous” critical incidents over the years through his work as a crisis negotiator.

He did not have critical incident commander training.

Halliday brings in other officers

After the first call from Rehill, Halliday took over and brought in the rest of the command team. He called Staff Sgt. Jeff West at 10:42 p.m. to bring him in as the critical incident commander and get him to mobilize his team “as quickly as he could.”

At that time, he would have passed on the information to West that a marked police car was possibly involved, Halliday said Tuesday. Halliday also called Staff Sgt. Addie MacCallum and told him he’d need him to handle containment and identify a perimeter.

MacCallum and Staff Sgt. Al Carroll were first to arrive at Bible Hill detachment and began to “prepare and muster resources” for the incident, including assessing maps of the Portapique area, constructing a profile of the gunman and helping call out for other resources.

Just after 11:30 p.m., Halliday joined the two other officers at Bible Hill and decided to have Rehill continue controlling resources on the ground as “ad hoc incident commander.”

First roadblock directions issued by Rehill

By this point, Rehill had co-ordinated with the first three officers who walked into Portapique with their carbine rifles. 

The commission has suggested the shooter left Portapique via a private back road — called blueberry field road by locals — then continued on Brown Loop Road to Highway 2 between 10:41 p.m. and 10:45 p.m.

Between 10:44 to 10:46 p.m., Rehill issued the first directions to set up a containment perimeter beyond the intersection of Portapique Beach Road and Highway 2, including roadblocks in the surrounding area.

However, the inquiry has already heard it wasn’t until midnight that officers were stationed on Highway 2 east of Portapique Beach Road. In the first hour and a half of the police response, two containment points were set up further west of Portapique Beach Road. 

A pair moved to Brown Loop, to which the blueberry field road connects, at 5 a.m.

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