RCMP officer concerned about “frenzied panic” caused by release of photo of killer’s car | The Canadian News

Nova Scotia RCMP were initially reluctant to release a photo of the replica police car driven by the gunman who killed 22 people in April 2020 for fear it could spark “frenzied panic.”

The details come from an interview with an RCMP operations officer who responded to the April 18-19 shootings, conducted by the Public Inquiry into the mass shooting.

Sgt. Steve Halliday told investigators at the inquiry that during an 8 a.m. phone call with communications director Lia Scanlan on April 19, he expressed concern about the public release of the photograph they had just received of the killer’s replica RCMP car.

Halliday told inquiry interviewers in November 2021 that he was concerned about how that message would be worded, “so as not to, you know, (put) our people at more risk.”

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According to the interview transcript, Halliday told Scanlan that he wanted to avoid sending “the public into a frenzied panic and overloading our OCC (Operational Communications Center) operators.”

These operators, based in Truro, N.S., handled 911 calls.

He went on to say that with so many police cars on the road responding to riots, he figured that “everybody who sees a police car (will) start calling 911.”

He said that was the most important thing in “trying to frame” how this information would be communicated.

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Victims’ families frustrated by lengthy NS mass shooting investigation process.

Victims’ families frustrated by lengthy investigation process into NS mass shooting

In the end, the photograph of the suspect’s vehicle was not shared with the public until 10:17 a.m., about three hours after Halifax Regional Police obtained photos from a relative of the killer’s spouse.

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Halliday told interviewers that “we knew we had to get it out,” referring to the photo of the killer’s RCMP car. “But you know none of us had ever had any experience sending a message like that to the public,” he added.

“It was very heavy.”

Before Const. Heidi Stevenson was killed by the gunman while running to support another officer who had been shot, she asked about sharing a photo of the replica cruiser with the public.

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At 8:44 a.m., Stevenson was recorded asking supervisors if they had considered distributing a press release about the shooter’s fully marked Ford Taurus. She was killed by the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, in a shootout at 10:49 a.m. after their vehicles collided.

Colchester County RCMP District Commander Al Carroll emailed Sgt. Bruce Briers, risk manager for the Operational Communications Centre, about Stevenson’s suggestion to release a statement to the media at 9:08 a.m., saying no public statement would be made about the police car. “A statement about the vehicle was considered, but the decision was made not to do so,” Carroll wrote.

Briers responded seven minutes later, “Very well, I figured they wouldn’t want to release it.”

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It is unclear who Brier refers to by “they” in his email. In the interview with the inquiry, Halliday said he was not aware of this conversation between Carroll and Briers.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of anything like that, and I’m surprised to hear it. I don’t think that’s accurate, frankly,” Halliday said.

It is unclear from police call records whether the Truro Operational Communications Center was inundated with calls after the photo was posted on social media at 10:17. But investigative documents detail two sightings of the shooter reported to police minutes after the photo of the fake police car was shared.

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Nova Scotia shooting gunman fooled neighbors, friends over RCMP cruiser.

Nova Scotia shooting gunman misled neighbors, friends about RCMP cruiser

At approximately 10:39 a.m., a police officer learned from his wife that her friend saw what appeared to be an RCMP car drive past their house, driving south on Highway 2 in Brookfield. According to the document, she later told police she believed he might be the perpetrator based on “photos (she) had seen on the internet.”

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Minutes later, the officer obtained confirmation that no RCMP member was driving a marked car in the area.

Then, at 10:42 a.m., another woman contacted the RCMP to report that a marked police vehicle was heading towards Stewiacke from the Brookfield intersection with the marking “B11”, the last part of the code the killer had used to mark his car.

“He had seen the RCMP’s Facebook post about the vehicle,” the document reads.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 28, 2022.

2022 The Canadian Press


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