Child abductor who bear-sprayed woman on Mother's Day pleads guilty

·4 min read
Nicole Shanks was arrested by Ottawa police on May 9, 2021. (Facebook - image credit)
Nicole Shanks was arrested by Ottawa police on May 9, 2021. (Facebook - image credit)

"I need to take him."

Nicole Shanks had just bear-maced Melissa Armstrong and was now moving to abduct her eight-day-old son on Mother's Day when she uttered those words.

The facts of the harrowing ordeal were read aloud in an Ottawa courtroom Friday afternoon, where Shanks pleaded guilty to the charges of child abduction, assault with a weapon, assault, possession of a dangerous weapon and criminal harassment.

"Ms. Armstrong fearing for her life and the life of her children knew she needed help," prosecutor Stephen Albers told the court. "She managed to run out of her front door and started screaming for people to help her and that Ms. Shanks was taking her baby."

Those frantic and frenzied moments were the end of a series of odd encounters with Shanks that began just days before.

The two women had befriended each other in an online chat group for moms. Armstrong had just given birth to a baby boy. Shanks sent her a message congratulating her on the birth of her son and offered to give her some used baby clothing and a gift card, Albers told court.

Armstrong gave Shanks her address.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

On May 7, Shanks went to the home and brought the new mother coffee, a box of baby clothes and a $100 gift certificate.

She told Armstrong that she, too, was pregnant and would be having a c-section. Both were not true.

Fake Mother's Day contest planned

Later, Shanks told Armstrong another lie — that she worked as a social worker at the courthouse. She told Armstrong she had entered her into a contest and won a Mother's Day gift basket and a hot breakfast delivery.

On the morning of May 9, Shanks began texting Armstrong around 8:52 a.m. Their communication would continue until 1:31 p.m. The first text wished Armstrong a happy Mother's Day, but then Shanks told her that the delivery company, which was supposed to bring the hot breakfast Shanks had promised, had somehow messed things up.

For hours, Armstrong would hear light knocking on her front door. Every time she went to look through the peep-hole, no one was there.

Around 1 p.m., Shanks, wearing a black hoodie and a black mask covering her face, went to Armstrong's home and pretended to be the delivery company, knocking on the door with a McDonald's food bag in hand. But when Armstrong answered, Shanks told her there was a "mix up," Albers said, and Shanks left.

Both before and after appearing at Armstrong's door, Shanks was messaging her.

It's at this point, Albers said, Armstrong started to feel uncomfortable with what was going on — Shanks was somehow trying to pretend she hadn't just been at Armstrong's door and Armstrong was confused by this woman she had just met pretending to be a delivery person.

At 1:31 p.m., Shanks messaged Armstrong that she was five minutes away and would be bringing her breakfast. But in those messages, she also wanted to confirm how many people were in the house at the time.

It was Armstrong, her newborn and her nine-year-old daughter, Armstrong told her.

Shanks knocked on the door. When Armstrong opened it, Shanks walked in and sprayed her in the face with a can of bear spray.

Armstrong was disoriented, couldn't see and was terrified, Albers said.

Shanks was yelling at Armstrong, nonsensically asking, "Melissa, why did you do that?"

Shanks told her that she needed to take the baby. Armstrong's eyes were burning and the new mother began panicking, Albers said.

Armstrong feared Shanks would stab her with what appeared to be a knife in her hands. Shanks continued to hit Armstrong, managed to get to the baby and pick him up.

Neighbour steps in to help

Neighbours came to help just as Shanks came out of the house holding the baby, Albers said.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

A neighbour, Bobby Emmerson, started running after Shanks and stopped her. Shanks put the baby down on the ground while Emmerson held onto her until police arrived. Shanks punched him in the face and kicked him repeatedly.

Ottawa police arrived and arrested her. Armstrong went back into her house to check on her daughter, who had "red, puffy eyes," from the fumes of the bear spray.

Neighbours later reported to police that Shanks had been lurking around Armstrong's home in the days before, watching the house, peering into windows and walking the perimeter.

Shanks is being represented by defence lawyer Michael Spratt on the abduction charges and Catherine Huot on other unrelated criminal charges.

Shanks also pleaded guilty Friday to those charges, which date back to 2017. They include, among others, charges for shoplifting from the same Kanata Wal-Mart on three different occasions, stealing cheques from a law office at which she was employed, breaking into that law firm, forging a lawyer's signature and fraudulently cashing cheques that weren't made out to her. She pleaded guilty, too, to multiple charges of failing to appear in court.

Shanks has not yet been sentenced for any of her crimes. She is next scheduled to appear in court in December.

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