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Neighbours and building managers gather outside the home of the accused Elizabeth Wettlaufer in Woodstock, Ont. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

When Elizabeth Wettlaufer had dinner with two of her friends at a Kelsey's restaurant in Woodstock, Ont., a few weeks back, she was her usual outgoing self. The 49-year-old former nurse was candid about a second rehab stint for narcotics she had recently completed in Toronto, her friend said, but there was much Ms. Wettlaufer kept to herself that night.

Ms. Wettlaufer, a church-going woman who used to host Bible study at a local retirement home, had agreed to the terms of an Oct. 6 peace bond that local police obtained citing reasonable grounds to believe she would commit a serious crime. As she dined with Nancy Gilbert and another friend that night, Ms. Wettlaufer was also the subject of a serial-murder investigation.

On Tuesday, Ms. Wettlaufer was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of elderly men and women in two nursing homes between 2007 and 2014 – allegations that stunned friends, family and former co-workers who could not reconcile the caring woman they knew with someone who stands accused of being one of Canada's most prolific serial killers.

Read more: Woodstock nurse charged with first-degree murder of eight elderly patients

Read more: Alleged victims at Ontario nursing home all thought to have died of natural causes

Read more: A history of nurses charged with killing patients

Ms. Wettlaufer's only sibling, a brother who lives in Nova Scotia, told The Globe and Mail that his family is processing the news. "It's a hard time," he said.

Interviews with those who know Ms. Wettlaufer combine with her social-media presence to paint a picture of a woman whose identity is largely tied to her Christian faith, her profession, travel, an affinity for cats and dogs, and a close relationship with her parents. "Father's day is a great reminder of how blessed I am to still have my Dad alive and able to spend time with me," a Facebook user with her name and photo said earlier this year. Her Facebook profile also reveals an effort to overcome addiction and find closure after a marriage breakdown.

Born on June 10, 1967, Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer (née Parker) attended Huron Park Secondary School in Woodstock and went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in counselling from London Baptist Bible College in 1991, according to a LinkedIn profile. She studied nursing at Conestoga College, and became a registered nurse in 1995.

She connected her spirituality with her work when she took on a position with Christian Horizons, which serves people with developmental disabilities. It is unclear when she joined the charitable organization, but Christian Horizons said in a statement Tuesday that she left in June of 2007. Earlier that year, according to mortgage documents, she and her husband separated. Her former spouse, a truck driver, declined to speak with The Globe.

Ms. Wettlaufer started working at Woodstock's Caressant Care nursing home in mid-2007, coming across to co-workers as a caring woman who treated her clients with respect. "There was never anything that seemed off or out of sync," said a woman who worked with Ms. Wettlaufer at the nursing home for several years. "Nothing seemed out of the ordinary."

The woman, a registered practical nurse who asked not to be named for privacy reasons, said Ms. Wettlaufer, who goes by Beth, often worked the overnight shift and would have had access to a week's worth of medication for upward of 99 clients at a time.

The deaths began two months after Ms. Wettlaufer started working at Caressant Care, with the August, 2007, death of an 84-year-old man. Another 84-year-old man died later that year.

In 2008, her divorce was finalized. She broke a "no dating vow" in mid-2010 to go on an afternoon date, her Facebook profile says. The registered practical nurse who asked not to be named said Ms. Wettlaufer was in a same-sex relationship, at least for a time.

In the fall of 2010, Ms. Wettlaufer registered for a bachelor of science in nursing course as part of an effort, her Facebook profile suggests, to become a nurse practitioner, a more advanced position that involves prescribing medications.

The next three deaths came in 2011. There was another in 2013, and one more at Caressant Care in 2014. Later that year, Ms. Wettlaufer started working at Meadow Park nursing home in London, Ont. It is there that the last death cited by police took place, in August of 2014. None of the allegations have been proved in court.

Around September of 2014, according to her Facebook profile, Ms. Wettlaufer got sober. "My own voice called to me in the darkness. Others [sic] hands lifted me when I chose the light. One year ago today I woke up not dead. 365 days clean and sober," says a Facebook posting in September of 2015.

Ms. Gilbert, who lived in the same apartment complex as Ms. Wettlaufer and bonded over their mutual affection for dogs, said the recent stint in rehab was Ms. Wettlaufer's second. Ms. Gilbert said her friend really loved her job.

"She talked about how rewarding it was to work with people, and especially one mentally handicapped child she cared for," she said. "She was a genuinely good and loving person."

Another neighbour, Charlene Puffer, said police started coming around the apartment building over the past few weeks, on one occasion arriving in haz-mat suits.

"It's terrifying to know someone who supposedly killed that many people lived right near me," Ms. Puffer said. "Then your mind starts going, thinking, 'Is there a body in there?' And then you think, how did this go on for so long? But to look at her and know her a bit, you would never think she could do something like this," Ms. Puffer said.

Ms. Wettlaufer's Facebook profile cites her current employer as Lifeguard Homecare. A woman who answered the phone there said the executive director was not available for comment. Caressant Care said in a statement it is co-operating fully with police.

Ms. Wettlaufer, for her part, resigned from the College of Nurses of Ontario on Sept. 30, the day after police received the tip about the case.

With reports from Colin Freeze in Woodstock, Ont., Rick Cash in Toronto, and The Canadian Press