North Yarmouth moves forward after search for missing woman

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The halls and rooms of the fire-rescue station were quiet and vacant Tuesday morning – a sharp contrast to last week, when dozens of law officers crowded inside in the search for Kristin Westra.

The mission to find the 47-year-old Chebeague Island School teacher began Oct. 1, and reached a tragic ending four days later when her body was found by children playing in a wooded area off Gray Road, about a half mile from the Lufkin Road home she shared with her husband, daughter and stepson.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Maine State Police and Maine Warden Service all took part in the search, along with many volunteers.

The search made national news and brought an outpouring of support locally and via social media. More than 100 people attended a vigil held the evening of Oct. 6 at the Congregational Church in Cumberland.

Eric Rohrbach, one of about a dozen people to speak at the church, told the audience he didn’t feel “like I can ever feel normal again,” the Portland Press Herald reported.

The following day, the body found was confirmed as Westra’s; her death was by suicide, the method of which authorities did not disclose.

That’s all the information Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson had when he made the rounds Tuesday morning at his station, which had been taken over by about 60 law enforcement officers the prior week. The weekend included a kite show and an open house at the department, a change of pace from the stress of the preceding days.

“Most of the (weekend) talk was, ‘how are you guys holding up, do you need anything from us,'” Payson said. “… They’re all doing good; it’s just been a long week.”

Husband Jay Westra told NBC News last week that his wife had been feeling anxious and suffered from insomnia some nights. A licensed clinical nurse practitioner met with her for a safety assessment, but deemed Kristin Westra was not a risk to anyone, including herself.

Although the nature of search’s conclusion was unfortunate, the chief said he was glad Westra was found and her family can have closure.

Such cases can take a toll on emergency responders, particularly in a town as small as North Yarmouth, he said. Payson recalled the frustration people felt at the limited information he could divulge during the search, although he was able to assuage residents’ concerns about whether they needed to be concerned for their own safety while Westra was missing.

Assistant Town Manager Debbie Grover, who is also the town clerk, said Tuesday that residents she had spoken with have expressed sorrow, as well as concern for Westra’s family.

They “wish that there were something they could do, but there’s not much,” she said. “Everybody just feels for (the family). Of course, we issue our condolences from the town.”

Marlee Baston, who works at North Yarmouth Variety, said customers were glad Westra was found, but sad about how she was discovered – by children playing hide and seek with their dog.

“That’s an unfortunate thing for the kids,” she said. “… The girls are having a rough time with it; they’re only 10 and 13.”

Being in a tight-knit community has its ups and downs, Payson noted. Ups like the kite festival, downs like watching neighbors go through an experience nobody deserves.

“On the bigger departments … they don’t necessarily have the community ties that we have (here),” the chief said. “You go to homes … you form relationships with (the residents). Now you’re seeing them at the worst time of their life. It plays on you a lot harder than it ever has in the bigger departments.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A vigil at the Congregational Church in Cumberland Oct. 6 drew more than 100 people in support of North Yarmouth resident Kristin Westra. A four-day search last week culminated in her body being found about a half mile from her home.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.