'We'll get through this': Woodstock copes with another tragedy
Published Thursday, October 27, 2016 2:24PM EDT
In recent years, Woodstock has been no stranger to finding itself in the national spotlight for tragic reasons.
And if you ask the people who live there, you’ll learn that it’s no stranger to not only persevering through those tragedies, but becoming a stronger, closer community as a result.
“Woodstock is a very resilient city,” Mayor Trevor Birtch said in an interview.
“We’ll get through this healing time together.”
Earlier this year, the city made headlines when a series of youth suicides – five in the first six months of 2016 – prompted hundreds of students to walk out of their classrooms en masse in protest of what they described as a lack of support for students experiencing mental health issues.
For Woodstock residents with longer memories, coming together to cope with adversity might stretch as far back as 1979, when a tornado leveled a grocery store in town and killed two people in the wider area.
Another notorious date in the city is April 8, 2009, when Tori Stafford was abducted while walking home from school and later killed.
Terri-Lynne McClintic pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the eight-year-old’s death in 2010, and Michael Rafferty was convicted of the same offence two years later.
Rafferty appealed his conviction. That appeal reached Ontario’s top court on Monday, where it was dismissed in short order.
Bill Renton, now the city’s police chief, was the lead investigator on the case. He was in the courtroom Monday for the appeal hearing.
The following day, Renton was front and centre at a news conference where investigators revealed that Elizabeth Wettlaufer had been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of eight nursing home residents.
Seven of the alleged victims were living at the Caressant Care facility in Woodstock – just across the street from Stafford’s school.
“Even if you don’t know the people, we’re a small enough community that you know of the people,” said Woodstock resident Maryanne Park.
Gladys Millard, for example, was well known at Knox Presbyterian Church.
Minister Mark McLennan says that Millard was in her mid-80s and “in declining health” when he first started working at the church, but still very much appreciated for the decades of volunteer work she had put in.
“It’s a real shock to us, to think that something like this could happen in our community,” he said.
Police have alleged that the eight people were given drugs that killed them. Family members have told CTV News that, based on what they have been told by police, lethal doses of insulin were administered.
When Michael Harding – who was Woodstock’s mayor at the time of Stafford’s disappearance – heard of the new allegations, his thoughts turned to the news of the previous day.
“It was a shock, because we had just … finally settled the Rafferty issue after seven years,” he said.
“We just seem to not be able to catch a break.”
Harding said that while he understands the often “tedious” nature of policing and the courts, he – like many residents – hopes more answers will be forthcoming as the case works its way through the legal system.
McLennan agreed, noting that his congregation and his “working-class town” have always managed to come together and cope together, no matter what hand they’ve been dealt.
“We’re still here, and we’re still doing what we do,” he said.
With reporting by Leena Latafat