Murder charges against top CFB Trenton officer leave military community reeling

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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BELLEVILLE, Ont. - The Canadian military was rocked to its core Monday following the bombshell allegation that the colonel in command of the country's largest air force base had killed two women and sexually assaulted two others.
Col. Russell Williams, a 46-year-old career member of the Canadian Forces, was charged Monday with first-degree murder in the deaths of Jessica Lloyd, 27, of Belleville, and Marie France Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal with CFB Trenton's 437 squadron who was killed last November.
"We're all shocked," said Lt. Annie Morin, a public affairs officer at CFB Trenton.
"The wing commander has been a man that's been respected and very much liked, so this news came as a very big shock for pretty much everybody on the base."
Williams was an elite pilot, a "shining bright star" of the military who rose through the ranks during his 23-year career to fly the prime minister and Governor General across Canada and overseas in one of four Canadian Forces Challenger jets.
He is now also charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in attacks on two other women in the region during home invasions last September.
Williams was appointed as the base commander of CFB Trenton last July. The high-profile military base is where troops depart from for Afghanistan and where repatriation ceremonies are held honouring slain soldiers. It is also a major search-and-rescue base and the main staging site for aid to Haiti.
On Monday, military brass expressed their condolences to the family's of the victims and shock at who police had named as the suspect.
"I never worked with him closely and didn't know him personally," said Maj.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and Williams's superior officer.
"As far as I know from what I've seen from his file, he was just a shining bright star. If you talk to people on the wing they would probably tell you that they admired the wing commander...Everybody is so surprised, we just do not know what to think about this."
The charges raised questions about whether members of the military are required to undergo regular psychiatric testing as they assume higher command.
Blondin said such testing would only be ordered if there were signs of a problem.
"All I do know is that when we pick people for jobs in command, they have been with us for the last 20-25 years. We observe them through their performance. They are usually extraordinary people. They rise above other members in the community at doing what we do and this is what Col. Williams has done. This is why he was picked to be wing commander," Blondin said.
Canada's top soldier said that military members are "in shock" following the charges against Williams.
"This is a tough day for anyone in uniform," chief of defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk told the Kingston Whig-Standard while visiting CFB Kingston on Monday.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Lt-Gen. Andre Deschamps, said in a statement that "the Air Force is fully supporting civilian authorities" in the case.
Allegations that a predator was in their midst left women in eastern Ontario deeply unsettled.
Katrina Chapple, 27, of Trenton, said as a result of a warning from police she recently had an alarm system installed.
"It's kind of scary. I have a house by myself just like (Jessica) did," Chapple said.
"I've been more cautious about when I get home late at night. Just kind of looking around and carrying something with me. So I've changed a few things. (I) got an alarm system, for one."
But Terra Dafoe, Lloyd's friend since childhood, said police should have notified women sooner, as warnings came too late for her "good-hearted" friend.
She said women in the Belleville-area weren't aware there was a possible predator on the loose until after Lloyd disappeared.
"We sort of feel like the police have failed us," Dafoe said in an interview from her Toronto home.
"Why not be more aggressive with the public in saying they had suspicions there was a predator out there? It's that type of lack of communication that is infuriating because then you feel like Jess might not have had to go through this."
Provincial police say they did warn women to take safety precautions after the back-to-back sex assaults in Tweed. Belleville police issued a similar warning following Lloyd's disappearance.
But they weren't prepared to say they should have warned the community they had a sexual predator on their hands.
"It's tough to speculate on that," Det.-Insp. Chris Nicholas told a news conference, adding that police did issue advisories last week.
It was only recently that police thought there could be a connection between the cases.
Police first looked at Williams as a suspect after he was pulled over on an area highway during roadside checks Feb. 4.
The body of Lloyd, an administrator at a school bus company, was found early Monday in Tweed, about 30 minutes north of Trenton, 11 days after she was last heard from by her friends.
Comeau, a corporal with CFB Trenton's 437 squadron, was found dead in her Brighton home on Nov. 25.
She had been in the military for 12 years and had been at 437 squadron for six months before she was killed. Police have not released her cause of death. An autopsy is to be performed on Lloyd in Toronto.
Some women in the region said they were satisfied with the police response.
Genness Grills, 26, of nearby Campbellford, says police recently urged women to change their routines.
"Maybe it would have been better if they said it earlier but I guess if people get too nervous about it, it doesn't really help them either," she said.
"It's good that they did say something once they were sure."
A Toronto rape victim known as Jane Doe sued police for not making the public aware of a serial rapist they were tracking and was awarded $220,000 in 1998 after a judge ruled she and other women were used without their knowledge or consent to attract a predator.
Williams, who has been relieved of his duties, appeared in Belleville court bound by hand and leg shackles Monday afternoon, and wearing a blue prison-issue jumpsuit and booties.
He was remanded in custody until a video appearance on Feb. 18.
Emotions boiled over in the courtroom as a handful of distraught-looking people caught sight of Williams. One man hurled an obscenity his way as Williams was led from the court.
The Department of National Defence issued a statement noting Williams is considered innocent until proven guilty, but that in light of the "seriousness of the charges" an interim Wing Commander for 8 Wing Trenton will soon be appointed.

Organizations: Canadian Forces, Canadian Air, Kingston Whig-Standard Air Force Department of National Defence

Geographic location: BELLEVILLE, Canada, Afghanistan Toronto Haiti Trenton Eastern Ontario Brighton Campbellford

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