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'I couldn't believe it's real': Residents of Woodstock, Ont., facility stunned by murder charges

They are rattled and scared, but mostly, the Woodstock, Ont., residents of Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Home are in disbelief that a former nurse has been accused of murdering eight patients — seven of them in their very own facility.

'I'm rather shocked. How can that be in a facility like this?' retirement home resident tells CBC

A woman walks into Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Home in Woodstock, Ont., on Tuesday. Ontario Provincial Police say a nurse at the home killed seven patients in her care there and an eighth individual at a facility in nearby London, Ont. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

They are rattled and scared, but mostly, the Woodstock, Ont., residents of Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Home are in disbelief that a former nurse has been accused of murdering eight patients — seven of them in their very own facility.

"I'm rather shocked. How can that be in a facility like this?" said one retirement home resident who, like several others who spoke with CBC, didn't want to be identified. "I can't believe it."

Staff were tight-lipped at the residence, where a sign at one of the entrance doors reads: "40 years of caring."  

Caressant Care operates six facilities in southwestern Ontario. The facility in Woodstock was in lockdown mode Tuesday afternoon, mostly, it seemed, to keep the media at bay.

Hours earlier, Ontario Provinal Police announced that former Caressant employee Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer, 49, has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight nursing home patients, including one at the Meadow Park facility in London, a 30-minute drive southwest of Woodstock.

Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer is shown in this still image, taken from video provided by Citynews Toronto, in Woodstock. She's accused of murdering eight nursing home patients. (Citynews Toronto/Canadian Press)

Police have revealed few details about the deaths, which occurred between August 2007 and August 2014. The victims were between the ages of 75 and 96. Police say seven of them had received a fatal dose of a drug.

The facility in Woodstock is divided into two — one section is a retirement home for those who are capable of looking after themselves. The other is a nursing home for those who need constant care. The latter is  where Wettlaufer worked.

'Pretty scary'

Robert McArdle, who lives with his wife in the retirement home, said the news is unsettling.

"It's pretty scary," he said. "Everything is getting closer to home."

I didn't really think it was true. I thought it was gossip.- Resident of Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Home 

Another resident told CBC, "I couldn't believe it's real." 

"I didn't know it [happened] here," she said. "A friend asked if I was all right."

She said she didn't understand until she turned on the television and saw the reports.

Another retirement home resident said when she sat down for lunch inside the small dining room, she initially dismissed the chatter she was hearing at her table.

"I didn't really think it was true," she said. "I thought it was gossip."

But now, she says, she's nervous and will be speaking with her family about her future at the home.

Family members of victims are escorted after the police press conference in Woodstock, a town of about 37,000 in southwestern Ontario, on Tuesday. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

None of the residents contacted by CBC News said they had any dealings with Wettlaufer, and for the most part, they had few complaints about the residence itself.

Recent tragedies

It's yet another high-profile tragedy in Woodstock, a community of 37,000 people located halfway between London and Hamilton. 

The town was already reeling from a rash of youth suicides earlier this year.

It's overwhelming," said another resident, who didn't want her name published. "I think there's a lot of fear in the community.- Woodstock resident

And now, this, at a nursing home on Fyfe Avenue, the very same street where in April 2009 Terri-Lynne McClintic led eight-year-old Tori Stafford to an awaiting car driven by Michael Rafferty. 

McClintic and Rafferty were later convicted of murdering the little girl, whose brutalized body was found more than three months later.

A resident of the neighbourhood said when she spotted the news trucks this morning, she thought it had to do with Rafferty's appeal, which Ontario's top court dismissed Monday.

Tori Stafford, 8, was abducted in Woodstock in April 2009. She was sexually assaulted and murdered. Her body was found more than three months later.

"It's overwhelming," said another resident, who didn't want her name published. "I think there's a lot of fear in the community." 

Mike Aggerholm, who's lived next door to Caressant Care for over 30 years, was equally rattled.

"It's obviously quite shocking," he said. "Woodstock was this little place outside of Toronto and then all of a sudden we had Tori Stafford ... And now this.

"When you hear that this has happened, that this person [allegedly] deprived those last moments with their loved ones. It's a difficult thing to wake up and hear it's happened in your community."

A look inside a room at the Caressant Care facility, which is divided into a nursing home section and a retirement facility for those able to care for themselves. (Simon Dingley/CBC)

But Jillian Oxley, who also lives near the nursing home, said she wasn't entirely shocked by the news and suspects patients die unnatural deaths in nursing homes more often than people realize.

"This is definitely close to my heart," Oxley said. "I would never ever consider putting my parent in a retirement home."

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.