One of the RCMP officers commanding the mass shooting response in Nova Scotia testifies

One of the commanders who led the RCMP’s initial response to the mass shooting in Nova Scotia said he momentarily thought a fellow officer might be the perpetrator of the killings after a report of a marked police car at the scene.

Steve Halliday, a retired staff sergeant, testified at the inquest into the shootings on Tuesday that he was able to quickly dismiss that theory and instead believed the vehicle linked to the shooter was actually an old car. the disaffected RCMP.

Halliday is one of several officers who testified at the inquest that they did not imagine during the first hours of the rampage that the vehicle driven by Gabriel Wortman, which killed 22 people on April 18 and 19, 2020, was almost identical to a real police car.

A new document released Tuesday by the commission investigating the RCMP details the command structure of the RCMP and the decisions made during the shooter’s 13 hours of activity, and explains what each officer did and when.

At 10:35 p.m. on April 18, the risk manager, Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill called Halliday at home to tell him about a probable active shooter situation in Portapique, Nova Scotia, where several people had died, fires were started in the community and a police cruiser may have been involved.

As a risk manager on duty at the operational communications center in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, Rehill was responsible for the incident which unfolded from the time victim Jamie Blair called 911 at 10:01 p.m. She said her husband, Greg, was shot by Wortman, a neighbor. She also said there had been an “RCMP car” in their yard.

She herself was later shot and killed by the shooter.

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

“My first thought was ‘uh-oh,'” Halliday told the inquest, adding that he was concerned Lilly had his cruiser tagged with him at Portapique and had done something “odious” in the process. the community.

“I was really worried that might be the case,” Halliday said.

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

A photo of the shooter’s disused 2017 Ford Taurus which he transformed into a replica cruiser. (Mass Casualty Commission)

Halliday said that once he realized Lilly was not involved, the idea of ​​the marked cruiser turned into a disused or older model police cruiser. He said from his experience that when people are caught up in traumatic situations, their information can be “misspoken or misinterpreted”.

“It factored into my thought process at the time,” Halliday said.

The inquest also heard that the first three officers who searched for the shooter in Portapique never imagined they were looking for someone in a fully marked police car that looked almost identical to theirs.

Halliday retired in January 2021 after 30 years with the RCMP in various roles. He had been an instructor for courses like Immediate Action Rapid Deployment and had been involved in “numerous” critical incidents over the years through his work as a crisis negotiator.

He had no critical incident commander training.

Halliday brings in other officers

After Rehill’s first call, Halliday took over and called in the rest of the command team. He called the staff sergeant. Jeff West at 10:42 p.m. to bring him in as critical incident commander and have him mobilize his team “as fast as he could”.

At that time, he reportedly passed the information to West that a marked police car may have been involved, Halliday said Tuesday. Halliday also called Master Sgt. Addie MacCallum and told him he would need him to manage containment and identify a perimeter.

MacCallum and Staff Sgt. Al Carroll was the first to arrive at Bible Hill Detachment and began “preparing and gathering resources” for the incident, including assessing maps of the Portapique area, building a shooter profile and helping to call other resources.

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

First barrage instructions issued by Rehill

By this point, Rehill had coordinated with the first three officers who entered Portapique with their rifles.

The commission suggested the shooter left Portapique via a private side 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 p.m. and 10:46 p.m., Rehill issued the first instructions to set up a containment perimeter beyond the intersection of Portapique Beach Road and Highway 2, including roadblocks in the vicinity.

However, the inquest has already heard that it was not until midnight that officers were posted on Highway 2 east of Portapique Beach Road. During the first hour and a half of the police intervention, two containment points were set up further west of Portapique Beach Road.

A couple moved to Brown Loop, which Blueberry Field Road connects to, at 5 a.m.