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More than 18 hours to find five N.S. mass shooting victims was 'deficient': lawyer

HALIFAX — A lawyer for families of victims killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting says an 18-hour delay in finding five bodies of those murdered is a sign of "deficient" policing.
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Police block the highway in Debert, N.S., on Sunday, April 19, 2020. The RCMP have taken Gabriel Wortman, 51, into custody after an incident in Portapique, N.S., where several people were shot. A report on how the RCMP handled the first scene of the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting indicates five of the victims weren’t found until about 18 hours after the killer fled. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — A lawyer for families of victims killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting says an 18-hour delay in finding five bodies of those murdered is a sign of "deficient" policing.

A study released Thursday by the public inquiry into the shooting quotes RCMP supervisor Sgt. Andy O’Brien stating "it did not occur" to him to drive to scenes other than locations where bodies were known to be and where fires had occurred in Portapique, N.S.

The public inquiry has said 13 of 22 victims were killed by the gunman in Portapique between about 10 p.m. and about 10:45 p.m. on April 18, 2020, when the killer escaped through a back road in his replica police car.

However, the study says it wasn’t until 4:46 p.m. on April 19, 2020, that the bodies of Peter and Joy Bond and — a few minutes later — those of Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver and Emily Tuck were found on a small road called Cobequid Court at the southern end of the community.

Josh Bryson, a lawyer for the Bond family, says the RCMP fell short by failing to order a house-to-house canvassing of the homes in the small community sooner than they did, adding that police left desperate family members wondering about their loved ones’ fates.

"It's deficient, it's not appropriate," Bryson said Friday in an interview. "It's not acceptable to us. You had members on hand .... There were no searches (in the morning).

"They didn't seem to consider that there might have been residents in homes who needed medical attention."

On the morning of April 19, 2020, emergency response team members were gradually evacuating the community. However, after a call came in at 9:30 a.m. of another shooting near Wentworth, N.S., those officers rapidly left Portapique in pursuit of the gunman. The inquiry heard Thursday that district commander Staff Sgt. Al Carroll and Sgt. O'Brien took charge of the Portapique area at this time, with constables under their command. Carroll left mid-morning, leaving O'Brien in charge.

Bryson said Bond family members had reached out to police via 911 seeking information the morning of April 19, but the requests didn't appear to make their way to Carroll.

Carroll testified on Thursday he didn't recall receiving "any messaging" from police dispatchers about these calls. He also said that he didn't expect that the houses would be searched, as it was up to the major crime investigators to take the next steps.

Const. Nick Dorrington told inquiry investigators he was ordered to look for “fatalities on front lawns” on April 19. The study says GPS records indicate his car stopped in front of the Bond house at 10:26 a.m. Dorrington's car was at the residence for about 30 seconds, but he didn't enter the home.

Bryson said he's left to wonder why the officer didn't approach the house. "Mr. Bond was in the front door deceased; the screen door was off its hinges, television was on; the lights were on. For someone to sit in the driveway … it's extremely upsetting and concerning," he said.

"There's no evidence to suggest they (the victims) were still alive … but it's very distressing to know your loved ones remained in the area with first responders in the vicinity, but they aren't being discovered," the lawyer added.

The theme of failures of communication has been prominent over the past week at the public inquiry hearings.

Carroll testified on Thursday that he didn't learn until 3:30 a.m. on April 19 that there were two key eyewitnesses who saw the killer and his replica patrol car at about 10:15 p.m. the previous night.

Bryson said the RCMP's communications shortcomings have emerged as a key revelation of the inquiry to date.

"A lot of this we can remedy, from my point of view, with better systems to convey information, which would be minimal in cost," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected version. The original version said lawyer Josh Bryson represents both the Bond and Tuck families. In fact, Bryson only represents the Bonds.