A million little connections

Every day, we make tiny connections with many people we may see for only a brief moment. Maybe they were not seen at all. It is startling to think that Col. Russell Williams was just another face in the crowd. It is scarier to think that his face was lost in the very same crowd as Paul Bernardo.

The reaction to discovering he went to University of Toronto Scarborough Campus usually is “When did he graduate?” The chance he may have been a person passed in the school halls is both terrifying and exciting.

I wonder if someone I have met, or made one of the many daily connections to, could be the next person to have a double life exposed: one half normal and the other half heinously criminal.

I know people who attended UTSC during the reign of the Scarborough Rapist. Their personal accounts of his influence on the community were of terror.

To an extent, the general public has become desensitized to these dangers. The dark backstreets and ill-lit corners are not the only places these attacks occur. Victims of similar crimes are just as likely to go missing during the daylight hours.

Younger residents shrug off warnings from parents or loved ones. My grandfather will not allow me to take the bus home late at night without a friend.

Are these warnings what is needed for there to be real change? Williams rose to prominence with the Canadian Forces and secured one of the top positions. The people who encountered him have described him as an “easy-going, nice guy.”

If Williams is found guilty, it reinforces this concept of a double life.

No one suspected Williams when the murders and sexual assaults were initially reported. Neighbours never had a reason to doubt Williams’s friendly and trustworthy persona. We are not taught to doubt what seems like genuine gestures without indications of underlying malice.

What this incident with Williams, and this reminder about Bernardo, has taught me is that parental warnings are justified.

There is no way to tell the difference between friend and foe. These people and the connections that we create with them, influence the rest of the chain. When a double life is revealed, the chain suddenly branches to these darker recesses of human emotion. These dark chains are usually those that remain in our conscience in the longest.

Scarborough remembers what happened then and personal stories from that era carry a similar theme: “We were right to be paranoid. Look what else happened so easily, and could happen again.”

Rewards were offered for information, and stories were released to describe any possible attacks that could be connected to this assailant. There was panic and paranoia.

Bernardo’s trial for the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy did not take place until 1995. His first sexual assault was cited as being in 1987.

Williams is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, as well as two sexual assaults. The parallels here are unavoidable. Though police cannot confirm a direct connection between the two men, there is speculation of one.

One convicted, and one charged in murders and sexual assaults. Both attended the same school, with overlapping subjects, at the same time. There are still cold cases that linger and haunt the community. The two could have conspired, convinced or influenced each other.

Naturally, we want to assume they both were connected in some way. It makes the thought easier to bear.

What we can learn from this tragedy is this: no matter who we meet, encounter or befriend we must be wary of the million little connections we make each day. They affect and change our lives, each encounter at a time.