• Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

The Fifth Estate explores the lingering questions about the Nova Scotia shootings: What RCMP knew about the gunman that night, how they were one step behind and why the public was left in the dark.

Nov 23, 2020

About 40 kilometres from Portapique in Onslow Mountain, Nick Beaton was making breakfast for his two-year-old son. His wife, Kristen, had just left for work.
She worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses, travelling around Nova Scotia taking care of those who needed her. She was a continuing care assistant and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was especially tired — she was pregnant and had a small child at home.
“She was going to work early in the morning you know six, seven in the morning whatever it was, and [before she left] she came in and gave me a big kiss and a big hug and she said, ‘Baby you’re the best,'” Nick Beaton said.
“Little did I know that would be the last kiss I’d have.”
Nick Beaton said he and his wife, Kristen, shown her during her first pregnancy, had a perfect life with their young son. She had just found out she was pregnant with their second child when she was killed. (Nick Beaton/Facebook)
Meanwhile, in nearby Masstown, Heather O’Brien was also getting ready for the day; the nurse, who worked for the same organization as Beaton, was hoping to spend her day off working on her garden. Before she got started, the mother of eight wanted to check in on her family.
Earlier that morning, O’Brien’s daughter Darcy Dobson was awoken by her husband with heartbreaking news: their friends Greg and Jamie Blair had been shot and killed in Portapique. Her husband was Jamie’s cousin; their sons played hockey together.
“At that point, we weren’t sure what had happened [in Portapique],” Dobson said. “I got up at 5:30, made a cup of coffee and called my mom.”
Knowing her family was shaken by that news, O’Brien offered to swing by with a round of coffees for her children and smiles for her 12 grandchildren. They all lived in a loop in Colchester County, close enough that O’Brien could stop in for visits and the drinks would still be delivered hot.
“She knew we were all kind of a little bit on edge about what was happening in Portapique,” Dobson told The Fifth Estate. “More than anything she just kinda wanted to see us, make sure everybody was OK.”
At this point, the only information the O’Brien family had was that something was happening in Portapique and police were still there, so she didn’t think much of leaving her house more than 20 kilometres away from the scene.
As she drove, she called a fellow nurse who lived on the opposite side of Portapique. Since there was only one rural highway for her friend to travel — the road that went through Portapique — and the RCMP had part of it blocked off, O’Brien wanted to make sure her coworker could still make it to her appointments.
Heather O’Brien was mother to eight and loved spending time with her 12 grandchildren. (Submitted by Darcy Dobson)
Little did O’Brien know the gunman was heading her way, and she was about to run into him on Plains Road in Debert.
She never made it to the coffee shop.
Not far away, after Kristen Beaton left for work, her husband Nick was texting her updates of what was happening in Portapique.
“I’m thinking that … it was like an isolated incident, that him and family got into it,” he said. Not thinking that he’s out targeting innocent people.”
The Beatons weren’t worried, but were still being careful.
They chatted while she was pulled over on the side of Plains Road, waiting for her next visit. As they spoke, Nick cautioned her not to stop for anyone.
By this time, the RCMP had tweeted the name and a photo of their suspect.
“I just said, ‘OK, I’m gonna go to his Facebook to find his picture and send it to you just in case you see him to avoid him,’ or what have you,” Nick Beaton said.
The photo was a smiling man in a ball cap. It was the last text Kristen Beaton read. The man in the photo came across Beaton as she was pulled over on the side of the road.
At that very same time, Heather O’Brien was heading down the same road, talking to her colleague on the phone. She saw what she thought was an RCMP car.
This RCMP handout photo shows the gunman’s car driving through Debert at 10 a.m. on the morning of April 19. (RCMP)
At 9:59 a.m., O’Brien heard gunshots. She sent a text message to her kids in their family group chat:
Shots fired Debert.
It was likely the gunfire that killed Kristen Beaton.
“The coworker asked her where she was, and she said the RCMP was there and at that point she had screamed,” said Dobson.
The line dropped. Her friend frantically dialled 911.
“I think she probably felt safe [seeing the] RCMP car,” Dobson said. “If there’s shots being fired in Debert, like at least the cops are here.”
O’Brien was killed by the gunman just a few hundred metres from Kristen Beaton.
When O’Brien and Beaton left their homes Sunday morning, they and their families weren’t aware that the gunman had fled Portapique — or even that the situation was ongoing.
A memorial for Kristen Beaton sits at the side of Plains Road in Debert, where she was killed. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
“It would have been after mom was killed that they posted he was [nearby],” O’Brien’s daughter Darcy Dobson said. “It was after she was killed that they posted he was in an RCMP car.”
About 15 minutes after O’Brien and Beaton were killed, Nova Scotia RCMP tweeted their suspect could be dressed as a Mountie driving a vehicle that was all but identical to an actual cruiser. It was 15 minutes too late for the two women. And it was nearly 12 hours after the RCMP received that information.
“The [RCMP] had an opportunity to stop him before the people who died on the 19th were killed,” said Dobson. “They failed to give the public the information they needed to stay safe.”
“I’ve gone over and over and over again they didn’t release that he was dressed as an officer,” Nick Beaton said.
He is adamant if they knew that information, his wife would be by his side today.
“If the RCMP had’ve armed us with the information of who he was and what they knew by 11 o’clock Saturday night … she wouldn’t have even been on the road,” he said.
“Me and many other blue nosers in Nova Scotia were sitting on their front deck with their firearms protecting their family. And she’d have been behind me, she’d have been safe.”
In all, the RCMP would release 10 tweets over the 13-hour rampage — releasing new tweets as they received information and sightings of the gunman as he traversed Nova Scotia.