Canada’s worst mass shooting erupted after an argument between the gunman and his girlfriend, who survived the attack, police have confirmed.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Supintendent Darren Campbell said the weekend rampage started with an assault by the suspect on his girlfriend and ended with 22 people dead in communities across central and northern Nova Scotia.

“She did manage to escape. That could well have been the catalyst of events,” Mr Campbell said.

He added that officers are not discounting that the suspect planned some of the murders.

He said the girlfriend hid overnight in woods from the suspect, who has been identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman.

Police have said Wortman acted alone in the shooting spree that killed 22 people in several rural communities.

Mr Campbell said officers found 13 victims in the rural community of Portapique, where the suspect lived part time.

He said when police arrived, they discovered a man who said he had been driving when someone in what looked like a police car shot him. He survived and was transported to hospital.

There were several homes on fire, including the suspect’s, when police arrived in the community. They found several dead in and outside homes.

Mr Campbell said the suspect had a pistol and several long-barrelled guns.

Her added that Wortman’s girlfriend emerged from hiding in the woods, called 911 and gave police detailed information about the suspect including that he was driving a mock police car and was in police uniform.

More than an hour later, police started receiving 911 calls more than 35 miles away. Mr Campbell said the suspect had killed three people he knew and set a house on fire.

He also shot a woman on the street and pulled cars over and shot and killed people.

Wortman later shot and injured a male police officer in his car. The officer managed to escape and survived.

Mr Campbell then said there was a collision between a female officer’s police car and the gunman’s mock police vehicle, and he shot and killed the officer. He then killed a witness who arrived on the scene.

Wortman then drove to a house and killed a woman he knew before removing his police uniform and stealing her car. He drove to get fuel and was shot by a police officer who happened to be at the filling station.

The suspect was shot dead at 11.26am on Sunday, about 13 hours after the attacks began.

Police have said Wortman carried out much of the attack disguised as a police officer in a vehicle marked to seem like a patrol car. Mr Campbell said he had a few cars that police believe were former police vehicles. His home was destroyed by fire.

John Hudson, who had known the gunman for about 18 years, said Wortman was sometimes openly controlling and jealous of his long-time girlfriend.

“I didn’t see him hitting her or anything like that,” Mr Hudson said. “But I know they fought.”

Wortman, who owned a denture practice in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, lived part time in Portapique, according to residents. His Atlantic Denture Clinic had been closed for the past month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada. The country overhauled its gun control laws after Marc Lepine killed 14 women and himself at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. Before the weekend rampage, that had been Canada’s worst mass shooting.

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