Killer in waiting: How should society deal with Kayla Bourque?

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

There's a ticking time-bomb quality to the story of Kayla Bourque, the 23-year-old former university student whose release from jail this week prompted a rare public warning from authorities.

Bourque was freed Monday after almost nine months in custody and pleading guilty last November to weapons possession and torturing and killing animals.

Her crimes, ugly as they were, normally wouldn't have sparked more than some brief public outrage before the world moved on. Except for the fact the pretty young woman from Prince George, B.C., has been characterized as a serial killer in waiting who'll likely need supervision for life.

[ Related: Animal killer Kayla Bourque released to live in Vancouver ]

"Bourque has an escalating criminal history," says the public notice issued by the B.C. Ministry of Justice. "She has offended violently against both people and animals and is considered high risk to reoffend."

When she was sentenced last November, the judge set down 46 conditions for her three-year probation, including a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., severe restrictions on movements and friendships, a ban on use of the Internet and on attending post-secondary schools.

Bourque was a Simon Fraser University criminology student who was arrested last March after confiding to a fellow student that she wanted to learn how to get away with murder. She confessed to killing cats in Prince George and said she fantasized about killing homeless people.

When she was arrested, police found a so-called "kill kit" containing a knife, razor blade, syringe, mask, garbage bags and plastic handcuffs in her dorm room, according to the Globe and Mail. They also found a video of her killing her family's dog and another of torturing the family cat.

Bourque's family, which adopted her from a Romanian orphanage as an infant, has effectively disowned her, saying she's not welcome back home, according to CBC News. She'll be living in Vancouver.

All of this raises the question for me: How does society defuse this apparent ticking bomb?

Among the conditions set by the judge was a requirement to get regular treatment for her obsession with inflicting pain and causing death. Bourque reportedly has expressed interest in getting help but psychologists who examined her say she showed no remorse or insight into her crimes.

The severe probation restrictions mean her life will be far from normal. She can't go to school, can't have a computer or cellphone with web access, can't possess duct tape.

She must inform any new friend about her criminal past, though given the notoriety she's achieved, how likely is it anyone will befriend her other than kinds of weirdos who write letters to Paul Bernardo or set up Facebook fan pages for Luka Magnotta?

[ Related: Public warning about B.C. animal killer carries 'big risk' ]

And if she completes her probation without incident, what then? Does she melt invisibly back into society or will authorities have to find some way to keep an eye on her for life?

"And given Bourque's pattern and escalation of offenses, why should we think treatment can perform the miracle of instilling a conscience where a natural one seems to be lacking?" Huffington Post blog managing editor Marni Soupcoff writes.

It's not clear what factors may have warped Bourque's brain, whether it was her time in the orphanage or some in-born problem, Soupcoff writes.

"Whatever the case, in some sense, it would seem (from the outside at least) that the damage has been done. And the part we ought to own up to is that there may simply be no realistic way of reducing people like Bourque's risk of committing a violent offense to a reasonably low level."

How do you deal with people like Bourque, or like the Sandy Hook school and Aurora, Colo. shooters, who fall outside the criteria of commitment to a psychiatric facility but still present a potential threat, she asks.

"There's no easy answer."