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'I can't go back': Haunted by mass shooting, man who sheltered gunman's girlfriend scared to go home
HALIFAX -- A month after the worst killing spree in Canadian history, the man who took in the shooter's girlfriend during the rampage says the events of that weekend put him through "hell" and he's too scared to return home to Portapique, N.S.
“I’m the lucky one. I survived … but I still have to deal with the aftermath of it,” says Leon Joudrey.
A forestry worker for more than 30 years, Joudrey says he only feels safe in the woods after the weekend of April 18, when a gunman went on a killing spree, claiming the lives of 22 people in several Nova Scotia communities.
Joudrey has been living in a trailer on a Nova Scotia backroad for the past month -- unable to stomach the thought of returning to his home in Portapique, where the gunman also had a home and where he started his rampage.
Gabriel Wortman killed 13 people and burned a number of homes in the community of Portapique.
Joudrey says it’s too much for him to bear.
“No, I can’t go back to the house now -- scared,” he says.
'All hell broke loose'
A good friend of Greg and Jamie Blair -- who were among the 22 victims -- Joudrey spent part of the evening at their home the night of April 18.
He came home around 10 p.m. and remembers hearing gunshots shortly after, but says he didn’t think much of it, as it’s fairly common to hear that sound in the rural community.
An early riser, Joudrey got up around 3:30 a.m. on April 19 to walk his dogs. That’s when he saw a message on his phone about fires in the area.
“I went for a drive. It’s only a few hundred yards out to Portapique Road … seen a little bit of flame and a SWAT vehicle and I knew it was Gabriel’s house,” recalls Joudrey.
“I figured they were there looking for him because I knew what he was like.”
Joudrey says he had had run-ins with Wortman before, and decided he didn’t like the 51-year-old denturist.
He knew Wortman had purchased old police cars at an auction, but never saw them adorned with police decals.
Unnerved by the fire and police presence, Joudrey returned to his home and grabbed his shotgun.
“Got my shotgun, with my phone, went in my bedroom with my dogs, because if SWAT’s around, ERT (Emergency Response Team), you stay in your house.”
He stayed there until early the next morning, when he heard someone pounding on his door.
It was Wortman’s girlfriend, who had just spent hours hiding from her boyfriend in the woods.
“She came in, told me stuff went on, just that he went crazy, is what she said,” recalls Joudrey. “She couldn’t call 911. I called 911. They came, three vehicles, about six of them with SWAT, guns, and all hell broke loose then.”
Joudrey describes the scene as confused and chaotic, with guns drawn -- some pointed at his dogs.
“They came to my house after they took Gabriel’s girlfriend and they asked if anybody was in my house. I said, ‘no.’ Another guy asked if there was anybody in my garage. I said, ‘no.’ They leave. They didn’t clear anything. They just got in their vehicles and left and left me there.”
Joudrey eventually flagged down other police officers, who told him to get out of Portapique.
It wasn’t until hours later, when someone phoned to check on him, that he learned what exactly had transpired overnight.
“I thought we all slept through these fires. That’s the only thing I knew took place, was two fires,” says Joudrey. “I knew they were looking for Gabriel, but I didn’t know why.”
Wortman was eventually shot and killed by police outside a gas station in Enfield, N.S., roughly 13 hours after his rampage began.
Calls for public inquiry
As Joudrey tries to deal with the loss of his friends and neighbours, he is also seeking answers as to why he was left in the midst of the chaos for hours, and told nothing.
He has expressed those concerns to Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team -- which is responsible for investigating all serious incidents involving police in the province -- but was told his complaint is outside SIRT’s mandate because he wasn’t injured.
Joudrey believes the province should call a public inquiry to answer those questions -- and more.
As for why the shooter didn’t come to his house, Joudrey says he suspects it’s because Wortman knew he was a hunter who had guns in his home.
“He knew I had firearms, which are legal of course, but he knew I was confrontational and I might interrupt his plan. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
He doesn’t believe he will ever be able to return to Portapique -- saying it has changed forever by a loss greater than most can fathom.