'Constant' fear in my house, U.S. woman testifies about impact of Quebec abduction
MONTREAL — A U.S. woman who was kidnapped along with her husband and smuggled into Quebec in October 2020 says she lives in constant fear she will fall victim to another crime.
Sandra Helm delivered a victim impact statement Thursday at a sentencing hearing for Gary Arnold, 54.
“What happened to us has changed our lives in every way imaginable,” Helm told Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Pennou.
“At the time of the events, I was afraid I was going to be killed. My husband and I thought we would never make it home to see our family again.”
A jury found Arnold guilty in February of five charges, including kidnapping, extortion and conspiracy to kidnap, for being part of a plot to abduct Sandra Helm and her husband James of Moira, N.Y. James Helm died in 2021.
The Crown has told the court previously it will seek a 17-year sentence for Arnold, while the defence has countered with a sentence recommendation in the 10-year range. Four other men arrested with Arnold received sentences of between six and 15 years.
The couple in their 70s were taken from their home by a group of men in September 2020, smuggled into Canada by boat through the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve and detained at a cottage in Magog, Que., about 125 kilometres southeast of Montreal.
The Helms were held for ransom in connection with what the Crown said was a botched drug deal involving their grandson, Mackenzie Helm. The group wanted to exchange the couple for 50 kilograms of cocaine or $3.5 million cash, but they were unaware Mackenzie had been arrested in Vermont days earlier with the drugs.
During the trial, Sandra Helm identified Arnold as one of the men in her bedroom the night of the kidnapping on Sept. 27, 2020.
The couple were held for two days in Magog before they were rescued unharmed by a Quebec provincial police tactical unit.
“The whole time being made to think and feel like we were going to be killed over something we had nothing to do with or knew about is something I could never imagine in our 70s,” Sandra Helm told the court, reading excerpts from a letter she wrote.
“This traumatized me and my husband and is something that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”
Even coming to testify at the trial earlier this year was difficult for Helm, as she feared repercussions from associates of the group that orchestrated the kidnapping.
She said she still lives in a "constant" state of fear. She doesn't go out after dark and is jumpy when people come to her home, despite a security system and cameras that have been added.
Her husband built braces out of wood to keep the door from being kicked in. The couple also bought a gun they kept under the bed, but she has got rid of it since his death.
She noted that it's common in the Upstate New York community to leave doors unlocked and not be fearful of strangers, but that's not the case for her. “I’m never at ease,” she said.
Pennou will render a sentence on April 17.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2023.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press