Gabriel Wortman Atlantic Denture Clinic owner and denturist unlikely Portapique gunman as friends and former school classmates reflect.
Nova Scotia, Canada locals have expressed shock and incredulity upon authorities identifying the gunman who went on a shooting spree that began in the small rural town of Portapique, Saturday night, circa 10.30 p.m, before ending at a gas station in Enfield, some 60 miles away, 12 hours later.
To locals who knew Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Wortman, a local denturist who ran Atlantic Denture Clinic in nearby Dartmouth, along with a second clinic in north-end Halifax, words of disbelief echoed.
Preliminary reports told of at least 16 fatalities. Wortman appeared to slaughter most of his targets at random, but police sources told the Toronto Sun the first two victims were the gunman’s ex-wife and her new boyfriend.
Those who went to school with him in New Brunswick took to social media with memories and expressions of shock and disbelief.
Wortman’s entry in the 1986 Riverview High School Yearbook was posted, describing him doing wheelies on his Honda XR 500R dirtbike and going skiing with friends, with his dislikes of ‘cold weather and English class.’
In one foreboding post, in light of this weekend’s tragedy, Sophie LeBlanc hints at an interest in a possible career in law enforcement, saying ‘Gabe’s future may include being an RCMP officer.’
My mom went to high school with Gabriel Wortman. “Gabe’s future may include being an RCMP officer.” Weird. pic.twitter.com/MBJhTZ0lAu
— Sophie LeBlanc (@sophieleblanc19) April 19, 2020
‘We used to shoot his machine gun air pellet or BB gun’
Former high school friend Scott Balser posted on Facebook that Wortman was a very nice guy who liked to help others.
‘We never know what others go through in life that makes them make certain decisions,’ Balser wrote according to the Cape Breton Post. ‘I am by no means defending his actions this weekend.’
‘It’s a very sad and tragic situation and my heart goes out to all the families involved. I’ve tried to live my life by this principle, ‘but for the grace of God, go I.’ We never know how we are going to react to a situation until we are in it.’
‘Very, very shocked to think that someone we’ve known for so long, a good neighbor, a helpful neighbor, very kind, would ever think of doing such a tragedy,’ Lillian MacCormack said via Canada’s CTV News.
Wortman also had a fondness for cars and motorcycles, with one neighbor saying Gabe having purchased two old police cruisers, which he parked in the yard behind the clinic.
‘It’s two Mountie cars,’ neighbor, Bill MacPherson told CTV News. ‘I never asked him about it.’
The Globe & Mail reported Wortman being obsessed with policing, buying law-enforcement memorabilia along with ‘boasting about his hobby of refurbishing old police cruisers’.
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, criminal operations officer for Nova Scotia RCMP, said the impersonation demonstrated a level of planning.
‘The fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act,’ he told the Globe & Mail.
‘This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable,’ Tom Taggart a local Portapique lawmaker told via the nytimes in a bid to underscore the enormity of this weekend’s calamity.
Wortman was also seemingly obsessed with guns as well.
Junior high school friend Pierre Little on Twitter recalled an early fascination Wortman had with air-powered guns and target practice.
‘We used to shoot his machine gun air pellet or BB gun, I can’t remember which, behind his house in Bridgedale,’ Little posted. ‘Quite a rare airgun for the eighties. He also was into bottlecaps with saltpeter stinkbombs.’
‘He was a little bit different, …. but he was the brunt of everybody’s jokes.’
New Brunswick comedian and TV host Candy Palmater in an interview with The Chronicle Herald said she considered Wortman one of her best friends when they attended the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton together in the late 1980s.
The pair met up while they were residents at UNB’s co-ed McLeod House, where they bonded over shared tastes in music and motorcycles, since Palmater’s family ran a Harley-Davidson dealership in northern New Brunswick.
‘I knew right from the beginning that this guy needed a friend, so I befriended him,’ Palmater said according to Cape Breton Post. ‘Most of my friends didn’t like him, but I didn’t care. He met my parents and members of my family, and we were inseparable for that whole year.’
‘I always felt like he wasn’t quite comfortable in his own skin, but I thought as he matured, he would grow into himself.’
Palmater said she and Wortman exchanged letters after university, but after the early 1990s, their paths wouldn’t cross again.
‘Gabriel always had a sadness about him, but I was so shocked to hear that he’d hurt other people,’ Palmater added. ‘I don’t know what his later adult life was like, but I can tell you that at university, people weren’t nice to him.
‘He was a little bit different, like I’m a little bit different, but he was beautiful and he had a really deep heart, but he was the brunt of everybody’s jokes.’
Plagued with issues at the office?
Neighbors told the Globe & Mail that Gabe Wortman, who they described as a millionaire struggled with alcohol use and that his business had been shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nova Scotia ordered the closing of dental clinics to all but emergency procedures in mid-March.
A former client at his clinic, who asked that her name not be used, recalled that Wortman and his common-law partner who worked with him were jovial and easy-going together when she received new dentures from him in September.
‘He was nuts; I mean that in a good way,’ she said. ‘We were carrying on back and forth like we knew each other our whole lives.
‘They seemed to get along fine, bantering with each other like you would with your good friends. They seemed like very nice people together, very happy people.’
The woman said it was the friendly atmosphere at the clinic that made her visit so memorable, and the joking between them that eased the burden of what could have been an uncomfortable procedure.
‘She said, ‘He gets all the thanks and all the hugs, and I do all the work.’ So I asked her if she wanted a hug, and I gave her a hug,” the former client said.’
‘I’m stunned here, to tell you the truth. It’s often the last person you’d think of, but they always say that after something like this.’
Posted another former client, Blaize Jones on Facebook, ‘I do remember him saying he buys old police vehicles from the auction and fixes them up; he had two.’
‘When I went to meet him at his Halifax location to pick up my new dentures, his wife was driving one. I pray he’s caught and no one else gets hurt. including him.’
It was not to be, with Wortman declared dead after fire was seen engulfing a vehicle he’d been driving, Sunday morning as a community is left to wonder what motivated a man who’d reached seeming success going on a ‘senseless’ killing spree?