Nathalie Warmerdam was looking forward to Christmas 2014 because she believed the man jailed for brutally beating another woman in the same county was scheduled to remain behind bars until early in the new year.
Then she learned the perpetrator's release date was actually late December.
"She just went into panic mode," said Faye Cassista, a victim services worker in Ontario's Renfrew County who helped Warmerdam form a safety plan. "She was always worried he would retaliate."
Cassista testified on day six of a three-week coroner's inquest into issues raised by the deaths of Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton.
All three were murdered on Sept. 22, 2015 by Basil Borutski, whose history of violence prompted Warmerdam to keep a panic button and gun for self defence, the inquest focusing on how to prevent further deaths from intimate partner violence has heard. Borutski had been convicted of threatening Warmerdam's son, among other crimes.
On Monday, Cassista spoke about the state of preparedness, alternating with fear, Warmerdam lived in for the two years leading to her death — something Cassista admitted was not easy to share.
"The only reason I am speaking for Nathalie and [Anastasia] is because I have the consent of Valerie and Anastasia's family," she said, citing the normally confidential nature of her discussions with partner abuse clients.
Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie Warmerdam's daughter, is among those questioning witnesses and acknowledged the difficult position Cassista was in as an inquest witness.
"A lot of the things that you may have known about mom's situation may have been things that she didn't share with me because I was a kid and she wanted to protect us," Valerie Warmerdam said.
Searching for a new home
Nathalie Warmerdam talked a few times about moving 10 to 15 hours away to protect her family and even took a scouting trip in the summer of 2014 when Borutski was in custody, Cassista said.
"She knows he's not gonna be in forever, so the fear is, what can I do to be proactive? What do I have to do to be safe?"
Warmerdam was murdered just days before another planned house-hunting trip, Cassista added.
"One of the things that occurs to me might have been on her mind when deciding to stay, or at least not move yet, would have been the fact that I wasn't done high school and so she wouldn't have wanted [us disrupted]," Valerie Warmerdam said before asking Cassista to talk about factors that women weigh in their decisions.
"Most moms worry about their kids," Cassista replied. "That's the number one thing."
Never knowing his vehicle
The inquest has heard that Borutski cited transportation issues for failing to participate in a court-mandated partner assault response program.
But Cassista said Borutski had access to seven or eight cars from a friend who worked at a garage.
That meant Warmerdam never knew what kind of vehicle he might be driving, which increased her anxiety as a rural nurse travelling to various parts of the county, Cassista said.
"There's not a lot of cars sometimes on some of those backroads, so if you had somebody behind you, it was very nerve-wracking for her," Cassista said. "Her fear always was that he would try to take her out at night when she was out working."
Tracker no guarantee of safety, support worker says
The inquest has also heard that Warmerdam used a mobile tracking system device issued by victim services, more commonly known as a panic button, which would alert Ontario Provincial Police officers to her location if she activated its alarm.
Victim services in Renfrew County began providing the trackers to women free of charge six to seven years ago, Cassista said. The satellite-based devices are meant for women at risk of violence who live in rural areas with spotty or no cellphone coverage, she said.
"It's not going to save a life," Cassista said. "Everybody knows that. In rural areas, your OPP could be 20, 25 minutes away."
But Cassista recalled an exchange with one of the first women to whom the county issued a panic button.
"She said to me, 'At least you'll know I'm dead and you'll know where my body is. You'll know where to find me.' So that's the peace of mind it gave them — that 'he can bury me.'"
Cassista said the devices are intrusive and require the user to be contacted by victim services every two weeks.
The inquest will hear later this week from an expert on the electronic monitoring of perpetrators, though the inquest has not heard that Borutski was under such monitoring.
'You can't walk around 24/7 with a gun'
Cassista also worked with Anastasia Kuzyk, who became involved with Borutski after Warmerdam, on her safety plan after Borutski was convicted of brutally assaulting her.
The plan was less intensive than Warmerdam's, even though Borutski was more physically harmful to Kuzyk than Warmerdam, Cassista said.
"She [saw] so much of the good in everybody and didn't think these things might happen," Cassista said of Kuzyk. "As much as she was terrified of him, she didn't really think that he would be capable of lethality."
She was also extremely private. "A lot of the stuff, she didn't want it out there," Cassista said.
One of Kuzyk's sisters moved in with her for a time, partly to make her feel more safe, Cassista added.
At the end of her testimony, Cassista was asked by a juror how she believed the system meant to protect Warmerdam, Kuzyk and Culleton failed them.
"I think anyone of us who worked with these women thought we failed them somehow because we all did your best but you can't stop somebody if he really wants to," she replied.
"You can't walk around 24/7 with a gun in your pocket expecting somebody to kill you every moment."