Hailey Frobel heard the screams from next door.
“I ran outside and I saw her,” Frobel said Monday afternoon. “I asked her, ‘What’s wrong? Do you need help?’
“She turned around and said, ‘My baby! She stole my baby!’ ”
The Mother’s Day attempted abduction took place at around 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Eva Taylor Court, an Ottawa Community Housing complex on Britannia Road, police said. They said the suspect, 32-year-old Nicole Shanks of Shawville, Que., “forcefully entered” the house and sprayed the young mother with bear spray before grabbing her baby.
Neighbours chased the woman down and held her until police arrived.
Staff-Sgt. Martin Groulx of the Ottawa police sexual assault and child abuse unit said at a virtual press conference Monday that there had been communications between the mother and the accused via Facebook, and that the accused had used her real name and picture.
He said the mother was told she had been randomly selected for a prize for new mothers.
At this point, police are not aware if there is a mental health issue or history at play, Groulx said.
Frobel, who is herself a young mother and moved into the complex just a short time ago, said she didn’t know the victim well, only as a “friendly neighbour” she’d say, “Hi,” to now and then. She said the woman also has a young daughter.
“I said to her, ‘Who stole your baby?’ and I started crying because I can’t even imagine,” Frobel said.
“Her eyes were shut. She said, ‘They pepper sprayed me and they took my baby.’ She couldn’t even barely talk.
“She said, ‘Call 911!’ ”
While Frobel called for help, another neighbour took off in pursuit of the suspect, chasing her through the complex and across Poulin Avenue to her car, which was parked at Britannia Plaza.
“His whole family ran out and chased her. They took photos of her. They took her down. She was trying to put the baby in her car,” Frobel said.
The baby boy is just eight days old, she said.
“It was very traumatizing. I bawled my head off when she told me. I didn’t even realize that she’d had her baby yet. I started freaking out. I can’t even imagine.”
Paramedics examined the baby and found him unharmed.
Police said the suspect had previously engaged with the mother on a social media chat group for new moms. She had brought a gift for the mother and newborn on Friday, police said.
The mother was not at home Monday afternoon and couldn’t be reached for comment, but gave her own harrowing account Sunday night in a public post on Facebook.
“She emptied the can of Mace into my face and I ran after her, she was saying he’s my baby I’m bringing him home,” the mother wrote. “I said no he’s my baby. When I realize she was bat s___ and thought it was her baby I knew she wouldn’t hurt him so instead of tugging at him I took off screaming for help. I was blind on the ground at this point. My daughter was impacted by the fumes and couldn’t see. My neighbors and his sons are heros. They took off after her as she was putting my son into her car they got her. I couldn’t see for hours. But I heard them all scream we got (him) we got the baby!!!!
“So my heart went back into my body.”
Frobel said neighbours had seen the suspect skulking around on the weekend.
“She was stalking her. Everyone was saying she was going through the backyards and looking. Everybody thought she was trying to steal something,” Frobel said. “She was just watching her every move.”
Shanks 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.
Shanks appeared at a show cause hearing Monday morning and was remanded into custody pending a court appearance Friday.
In January this year, Renfrew OPP named Shanks in a news release about a traffic stop on Highway 17 that ended with her being charged with three counts of failure to comply and one count each of personation; obstruct peace officer; speeding; and suspended driving.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the sexual assault and child abuse unit at 613-236-1222, ext. 5944.