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Amber Kirwan murder trial captivates small-town Nova Scotia

Above: Three of Chris Falconer’s girlfriends claim they were unable to get a hold of him for hours on October 9th, the morning after Amber Kirwan was last seen alive. Global’s Natasha Pace reports.

When Amber Kirwan disappeared in Oct. 2011, it seemed as though almost everyone in the town of New Glasgow, N.S. and nearby communities had some connection to the 19-year-old.

They may have known her parents, had a child in the same class as her in high school or just recognized the young woman from seeing her about town.

So when she failed to show up to meet her boyfriend after a night out at a downtown pool hall, the community rallied to search for her and hold out hope she would come home safe.

Some 70,000 posters were put up in Pictou County and around the province.

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Vigils were held for weeks and a memorial of candles, flowers and other tokens grew along a wall across from where she was last seen, as that hope began to fade and worst fears were confirmed almost a month after she disappeared.

Her murder affected the area deeply: her family, friends, co-workers, classmates and even those with only a slight connection to her joined to mourn.

The long-awaited trial of the man accused of killing Kirwan is one of the most high-profile cases Pictou County has seen.

Members of the public must wait at least an hour to get in to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in the town of Pictou, 17 kilometres from New Glasgow, where the proceedings in the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Alexander Falconer wrapped up their ninth day on Friday.

The courtroom has been filled to capacity, 70 people, every day. When someone leaves their seat it doesn’t stay free for long. Additional security measures, such as metal detectors, have been put in place.

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That’s in part because of those who have followed and discussed the story on social media for more than two years now.

Global’s Natasha Pace and cameraman Cory McGraw have been covering the trial extensively, providing live updates on Twitter, garnering attention from those who are interested in the proceedings but cannot attend.

Pace said there’s so much interest in the trial that she spends much of her day responding to messages from people following their updates. (As cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, McGraw has been providing updates, photos and videos of what’s happening outside of the proceedings.)

“So many people have been coming up to us and saying that they’re watching us on the [live] blog and watching us on Twitter and wanted to come down and see the proceedings,” she said.
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“The whole community seems to be really engaged in this trial,” Pace said.

But the community’s connection to the case is nothing new. A lot of it stems from the immediate reaction in the days following her disappearance.

After Kirwan went missing early Oct. 9 2011, people in Pictou County organized quickly to search for the young woman.

The efforts continued for weeks until her body was found Nov. 5, in a muddy grave in a wooded area about 26 kilometres from where she was last seen alive.

Police detained Falconer that same week on a parole violation, but did not charge him with the kidnapping and first-degree murder of Kirwan until the following May.

Shortly after her disappearance, a Facebook group popped up to discuss the search and the mystery surrounding her disapperance.

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But after her death was confirmed, it became a place for people to discuss (and speculate on) the case.

The “Pictou County: Amber Kirwan Homicide – Open Discussion – Facts & Opinion” group is watched by more than 2,600 people.

Every aspect of the case is up for discussion, but that also means rumours can run rampant and debates can get heated.

“Even though the trial is still in its second week, there’s still so many rumours,” Pace explained. “It’s interesting to see how all of the things we heard about two years ago are still playing out in people’s minds today.”

Pace said that’s because there are sill so many unanswered questions.

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The attention to the case has had only a minor effect on the proceedings, Pace said.

She explained Justice Nick Scaravelli banned cellphones from the courtroom, with the exception of media, after a spectator took a photo of Falconer and posted it on Twitter.

The trial is slated to continue until Jan. 31, but Pace said it could wrap up as early as next week.

“I don’t think that I can remember [when] we’ve seen anything like this,” she said. “It’s interesting to see it from the start when she went missing to now when there’s a trial for someone charged with her murder, and see how people are still engaged in it.”

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