Warning: the details of this story may be disturbing to some.
The domestic partner of the man responsible for the Nova Scotia mass shooting said in an investigation Friday that he lied to police about his illegal weapons and did not report earlier violent behavior because he was too afraid of it.
Lisa Banfield struggled to maintain her composure as she described how her partner beat her in 2003 in front of witnesses, offering new details about what happened when her husband threatened to kill her parents in 2010.
The investigation has heard that she was beaten and seriously injured by the killer on the night of April 18, 2020, immediately before a shooting began that would claim 22 lives. She told investigators that she escaped into the woods and went out the next morning to tell police that her partner, Gabriel Wortman, was still at large and driving a vehicle that looked exactly like an RCMP cruiser.
Banfield’s testimony on Friday was the first time he has spoken publicly about the tragedy. The commission of inquiry agreed to allow Banfield to testify without facing cross-examination from attorneys representing other parties, primarily because she could be traumatized by having to relive the violence she endured.
Hnatiw: Dr. Jaffee describes Banfield as being afraid to go out. Banfield says that’s how he feels: “I feel like someone might come at me or attack me… so I’m nervous.” #MCC
—Heidi Petracek (@HeidiPCTV) July 15, 2022
Still, Banfield’s testimony was at times painful and dramatic, as he described what happened in June 2010 when Wortman’s uncle alerted Halifax police that his nephew had threatened to kill his parents over a property dispute. .
Banfield recalled how the killer had been drinking heavily when he fired a bullet into the wall of her Dartmouth, NS home, terrifying her. When a Halifax police officer arrived at his door, Banfield admitted that he lied when asked about the death threats and whether his spouse had guns.
Asked why he lied by commission attorney Gillian Hnatiw, Banfield sobbed as he explained.
“He had the gun by the nightstand and he said, ‘If any police come, I’m going to shoot,'” he said. “So when they asked me that, I didn’t want them to come in, because I didn’t want them (police) to get hurt.”
Banfield confirmed that there were other times Wortman threatened her with a gun.
“There were a couple of times he… put the gun to my head to scare me. He said he could blow my head off. So I was scared. I’m sorry, I’m not going to do it.” say anything….he was afraid of what he would do.
“The grown men knew he had guns and what he was doing. And they were afraid of him. So what am I going to do?”
When an RCMP officer showed up at the couple’s summer home in Portapique, NS, after the death threat was reported, Wortman insisted he owned no firearms apart from an old musket and another old weapon. suspended near the fireplace and “filled with wax,” Banfield testified.
She confirmed that the officer in question was Const. Greg Wiley, who had known Wortman for years and later told investigators that he had visited his Portapique home 16 times.
Hnatiw also asked Banfield about a violent assault on a gathering at Sutherland Lake, north of Portapique. In previous interviews with the investigation, he indicated that the attack took place in 2001 or 2002, but confirmed on Friday that the actual date was 2003.
She testified that when she tried to leave the party, Wortman was furious. As the couple drove away from her in her Jeep, he started hitting her, she said.
“And as I was driving back down the back road, he was yelling at me,” she said as the courtroom fell silent. “He started punching me in the face. He was thinking, ‘Nobody’s ever hit me before…and I’m trying to drive. He kept hitting me in the head.’
She said she jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the woods. He ran after her and caught her.
“He grabbed my hair and was hitting me, and I’m trying to protect myself,” she said. “I’m screaming. She pulled me down the road…and then I could see these two (ATVs) and their lights were on me. She looked up and let go of me.”
Banfield said Wortman was then placed in the back of a police cruiser and taken back to his home in Portapique.
When asked why he refused to report the assault to the police, Banfield replied: “It’s the first time I’ve been hit by someone, and I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. I just thought, ‘I’m leaving.’
Hnatiw also asked Banfield about the early stages of the couple’s relationship, which began in 2001 after they met at a bar in downtown Halifax. Banfield said that on his first date, he showed up with two dozen long-stemmed roses. “I thought that was exaggerated,” he said.
But later that night, she was shocked by his reaction when his car was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by a young woman. “She approached the two girls in the vehicle. She was smiling,” she said. “He said, ‘Okay.’ He was very calm. I thought: ‘he’s a good guy'”.
Some members of the victims’ families attended the hearing on Friday. Banfield was accompanied by two of her sisters, Janice and Maureen.
Earlier this week, the commission released a document based on evidence provided by Banfield during RCMP interviews and the investigation detailing the killer’s long history of violence towards her.
Attorney Michael Scott, whose firm represents the families of 14 of the victims, says the investigation’s decision to limit questioning will leave lingering questions about Banfield’s testimony.
During the 13 hours he was on the run, the killer fatally shot 22 people, including a pregnant woman and a mounted policeman. He was shot and killed by two mounted police officers on the morning of April 19, 2020.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 15, 2022.