Woodstock nurse accused of 'administering drug' to murder 8 patients at long-term care homes
Published Tuesday, October 25, 2016 5:23AM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, October 25, 2016 5:57PM EDT
A Woodstock nurse is facing eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of elderly patients at long-term care facilities in Woodstock and London.
Police said the investigation began on Sept. 29 when officers with the Woodstock Police Service received information that eight seniors had been killed between 2007 and 2014.
The allegations stem from the deaths of seven patients at the Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Homes in Woodstock and one patient at Meadow Park facility in London.
Investigators believe the suspect murdered the residents by “administering a drug,” but would not elaborate further on the specifics.
Police also declined to comment on a motive.
The victims were between the ages of 75 and 96. Police said they are “confident” that all the victims have been identified and their families have been notified.
Police identified the victims at Caressant Care as James Silcox, 84, Maurice Granat, 84, Gladys Millard, 87, Helen Matheson, 95, Mary Zurawinski, 96, Helen Young, 90, and Maureen Pickering, 79. The victim who lived at Meadow Park in London has been identified as 75-year-old Arpad Horvath.
The Silcox family released a statement Tuesday, saying James was “lovingly remembered by his of more than 64 years, Agnes, their six children, 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren and one great great-grandchild.”
He was a member of the Canadian Legion Branch 55 in Woodstock, the statement said, and he retired in the 1980s after 25 years of service.
“We ask that all family members be permitted the time to grief once again in private,” the statement read.
“As you can imagine, this disclosure caused us to immediately assess the information and muster the necessary resources to ensure a thorough investigation of the facts,” Woodstock Police Chief William Renton told reporters at a news conference in Woodstock on Tuesday.
The multi-jurisdictional investigation -- which pooled members of the Woodstock Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police Criminal Investigation Branch and the London Police Service – required a hired major case manager to oversee the case.
A suspect identified as a nurse formerly employed at the facilities, 49-year-old Woodstock resident Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer, has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.
She appeared in a Woodstock court today where she was ultimately remanded into custody.
Though they did not provide specifics, investigators said Wettlaufer worked “not just at Caressant Care but other facilities” as well.
Earlier on Monday, Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Homes Limited released a statement to the media indicating that they are cooperating with the investigation and that the nurse in question left the facility two-and-a-half years ago.
"We remain in regular contact with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Our highest priority is to continue to provide for the physical, social and spiritual needs of our residents, and that remains our focus. We deeply regret the additional grief and stress this is imposing on the families involved," Lee Griffi, a communications manager for the facility, said in the statement.
Cressant Care said they have been in contact with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and that the “physical, social and spiritual needs” of their residents remains their focus.
"We are determined to avoid compromising the police investigation in any way and are therefore unable to provide any additional comment at this time," Griffi added.
Investigators declined to comment any further on the investigation but said that it is ongoing.
“We all extended our heartfelt condolences during this difficult time,” Renton said. “It’s our hope that you may have some comfort in knowing that charges have been laid and that an individual is before the courts.”
Renton went on to praise Woodstock’s residents for their strength in light of the circumstances.
“We’re a resilient town,” he said.
“It’s certainly something that we’re all very live to. It’s very difficult for a community to endure these types of tragic incidents but the community is strong and the community will rally and we’ll work through it again like we have during other major incidents.”
Staff at Caressant Care 'really kind'
A man leaving the Caressant Care in Woodstock on Tuesday afternoon said the news of the alleged homicdes hasn't changed how he feels about the facility.
“I’m confident about my wife in there. She’s been there for over three years now and the personal support workers and nurses, I think they’re all great in there," Jamie McGowan told CTV News Toronto. "I don’t have a problem with anybody and the workers are really kind and I know they love my wife. I’ve heard them say it. They’d like to take them home they love them so much.”
McGowan said he is confident in the staff, who he describes as "really kind."
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), an organization that advocates on behalf of adults aged 50 and over, said the alleged homicides highlight an “ongoing societal issue of abuse of elderly citizens” but should not be considered a reflection of all the nursing profession.
“CARP recognizes the tremendous care that thousands of nurses and personal support workers provide to seniors living in long term care facilities across Canada,” Anthony Quinn, the director of public affairs at CARP, said in a statement. “This tragic crime is in no way reflective on those who endeavor to provide comfort and dignity to seniors in their final days.
Meanwhile, the CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario said she still has "many questions."
"This comes so out of left field. This has left us troubled," Doris Grinspun told CP24 on Tuesday afternoon. "We need to know the details to understand the situation and make changes if necessary. If it's at the ministry's levels, regulatory levels or nursing homes."
"I do want to ensure the public and people in nursing homes, residents themselves, families and other nurses that work in nursing homes -- regulated and unregulated -- that we do know that they go every day to work wanting to do good for residents," she added.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Woodstock police at 519-537-2323 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.