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Top Canadian Military Commander Charged With Murder, Sexual Assault

The commander of Canada's largest Air Force base, who once flew dignitaries around the country, has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two women.

Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas said Monday that Col. Russell Williams, 46, was also charged in the sexual assaults of two other women. Williams was arrested Sunday in Ottawa.

The charges left Canada's military in a state of shock.

Williams, a 23-year military veteran, was appointed as the base commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ontario last July. Trenton is Canada's busiest Air Force base and is providing logistical support for Canada's missions in Haiti and Afghanistan as well as support for the Vancouver Winter Games.

Williams is charged with the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd, 27, of a Belleville, Ontario, resident whose body was found earlier Monday, and Marie Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal found dead in her Brighton, Ontario, home in November.

Authorities said Williams came to the attention of police during a roadside canvas on Feb. 4, six days after Lloyd was deemed missing.

Williams is also charged with forcible confinement, breaking and entering and sexual assault after two women were sexually assaulted during two separate home invasions in the Tweed, Ontario area in September of 2009.

"We're shocked by the connection that has been made with a leader in our Air Force," Maj. Gen. Yvan Blondin, the direct commander of Williams, said in Trenton.

"It obviously is no longer possible for the commander to remain in his position."

Blondin said he didn't know him personally but said Williams was an elite pilot and considered a "shining bright star."

Williams was photographed last month with Defense Minister Peter MacKay and Canada's top general during an inspection of a Canadian aircraft that was on its way to support relief efforts in Haiti.

Lieutenant-General Andre Deschamps, Canada's Air Force chief, said the Air Force is fully supporting civilian police. He called it a difficult period but said the Air Force would provide support for personnel at Trenton.

Dan Dugas, a spokesman for MacKay, called the charges serious but said MacKay will not comment.

Police descended on Williams' Ottawa home on Sunday and police cars remained posted there Monday evening. Williams' Defense Department biography said he is married.

Williams once served as a Challenger aircraft pilot who transported VIPs. The Air Force declined to say who he flew but the Challenger regularly flies cabinet ministers and the governor general, Canada's ceremonial head of sate. A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he didn't believe Williams flew Harper.

Between December 2005 and June 2006, Williams was the commanding officer for Camp Mirage, the secretive Canadian Forces forward logistics base that is not officially acknowledged by the government or military but has been widely reported to be near Dubai.

"We are certainly tracking the movements of where this man has been over the past several years and we're continuing with our investigation," Nicholas said.

Williams walked into a courthouse in Belleville, Ontario on Monday in hand and leg shackles, wearing a blue prison-issue jumpsuit. The judge imposed a publication ban on other details.

He was held in custody and will appear in court by video on Feb. 18.