Canada

'My kids loved her': Accused baby abductor was once a trusted child caregiver

"She was great with my kids. I didn't have a problem with her."

A woman is arrested by Ottawa police after an abduction attempt last weekend.

An Ottawa mother says she was shocked to learn that the woman who once cared for her young children has now been charged with trying to abduct an infant boy on Mother’s Day.

Stephanie Duncan says Nicole Shanks answered her request for childcare on an online mom’s group in 2016.

“It gives me the chills,” Duncan said Tuesday. She learned about the abduction attempt on Monday when a friend sent her a link to the story online about a young mother in Britannia who was sprayed with bear repellant by a woman who then grabbed her 10-day-old baby and ran.

“She said, ‘Isn’t this your old daycare provider?’ and I said, ‘Oh my god! It is!'”

Shanks, 32, is charged with administering a noxious substance with intent to endanger life, abduction of a person under the age of 14, possession of a weapon dangerous to the public peace, break and enter with intent, assault with a weapon, carrying a concealed weapon, harassment by watching and besetting, and assault.

But Duncan had only good things to say about the care Shanks had provided. In September 2016, Duncan was looking for someone to look after her sons, then aged one and five, while she went to her nursing job. Duncan needed to be able to drop her kids off early before starting work.

“She was available and she was able to do the early drop offs and she was very accommodating,” said Duncan, who would bring her kids to Shanks’s home in Kanata. When arrested, Shanks was living in Shawville, Que.

“She was great with my kids. I didn’t have a problem with her. She took them to Funhaven and Cosmic Adventure. My kids loved her and they loved going there and she was wonderful.”

The arrangement lasted until June, when Shanks started to become unreliable.

“I started hearing excuses. I’d get a message at 2 a.m. saying something had happened and she couldn’t watch the children. In nursing, I get up at 5 a.m. and I can’t go looking for someone at 5 a.m. to watch my kids, so we had to part ways.”

Shanks had three children of her own, Duncan said.

Ottawa police said Shanks befriended Britannia mother Melanie Armstrong in a Facebook group and told her that she’d won a prize. Shanks delivered the prize on Friday, then is alleged to have returned to the Armstrong’s townhouse Sunday afternoon. Police said after spraying the mom with bear repellant, Shanks grabbed the infant and ran. Neighbours chased her down and held her until police arrived. The baby was unharmed.

Ottawa police declined to comment on specifics of the case during an active investigation while the matter remains before the courts.

But a spokeswoman highlighted several points from the OPS tip sheet for online interactions.

Police advise to “limit personal information you make available to other users.

“Do not post or tell anyone online your date of birth, address, phone number or any other personal information.

“If you’re meeting someone that you’ve only ever talked to online, make sure you meet them during daylight hours, in a well-lit, public place, like a coffee shop or mall and make sure that someone you trust knows when/where you’ll be. Trust your instincts and if you feel unsafe at any time while meeting this person, leave immediately.”

Shanks is scheduled to appear in court again on Friday. Ottawa police said Monday that they weren’t aware of any mental health issue that could have contributed to the abduction attempt.

But Duncan said there must be a reason that Shanks went from being a responsible caregiver to a woman behind bars.

“Mental health is something that’s very serious,” Duncan said. “I’m in nursing so I see a lot of it. Something may have happened in her life that made her go down that road.

“But she was really great. It just didn’t work out for us. I hope she gets the help she needs.”

With files from Aedan Helmer

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