'I got bear-maced in the face,' Ottawa mom says of newborn's brief abduction

A brazen, brief abduction on Mother's Day of an infant boy and his subsequent rescue by neighbours began after the child's mother was offered a free gift basket from someone she met on Facebook.

Neighbours raced to chase down suspect and save newborn baby

Melissa Armstrong and Nicholas Freda say they are forever grateful to the people who helped rescue their newborn son after he was abducted from his home on Mother's Day. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

A brazen, brief abduction on Mother's Day of an infant boy and his subsequent rescue by neighbours began after the child's mother was offered a free gift basket from someone she met on Facebook.

Melissa Armstrong, 31, says she connected with a woman on a Facebook page about free giveaways for moms in the Ottawa area, and met her on Friday when she dropped off free clothing for her newborn son. 

The two had arranged to meet again on Sunday after the woman told Armstrong her employer was giving out free gift baskets for Mother's Day. When she came to the door, Armstrong said she quickly realized there was no basket.

"I got bear-maced in the face," Armstrong said, describing how, after being sprayed with the noxious substance, the woman pushed her out of the way.

"We wrestled. I tried to keep her away from my son."

During the struggle, the woman claimed she was the child's actual mother, according to Armstrong.

WATCH | Family recovering after Mother's Day ordeal:

‘I started screaming for help’: Ottawa family recovering after alleged baby abduction

1 month ago
New mom Melissa Armstrong was expecting a delivery Sunday afternoon from a Quebec woman she had met on a local Facebook group. Instead, she says she was attacked with bear spray before the woman pushed her way into the home and left with her eight-day-old son. 2:13

"She ended up picking up my son [and] at this point I realized she wasn't going to hurt him because she thought that was her son," Armstrong said.

Armstrong, who says she was nearly blinded by the bear spray and still recovering from a caesarean section, decided it was best to stop fighting and run for help. She raced out her back door screaming. Her neighbour Bobby Emmerson and his teenage son started a pursuit.

"I start running towards the street. I didn't know where I was going. I just ran," Emmerson said.  

Emmerson said the woman was carrying the eight-day old under her arm and trying to get to her car. When he confronted her, he said she set the baby on the ground. Emmerson was able to detain the woman, and his son picked up the baby.

His son declined to be interviewed. His mother spoke to CBC News for him. 

WATCH | Neighbour ran to help:

Neighbour tracks down abduction suspect after hearing calls for help

CBC News Ottawa

1 month ago
Bobby Emmerson was outside on Sunday when he heard a neighbour calling for help, saying her son had been taken. He says he ran after the suspect, retrieved eight-day-old Mason and detained the woman until Ottawa police arrived. 0:56

"I don't know how many 14-year-olds you know would be brave enough to do what he did, but he was and he did, and he followed his father until that girl was in handcuffs," Christina Feher said of her son.

Armstrong's nine-year-old daughter was also home at the time, but upstairs in her room. Armstrong said the fumes from the spray were so thick that her daughter's eyes were swollen shut when paramedics arrived. 

Ottawa police arrested 32-year-old Nicole Shanks, of Shawville, Que. She faces ten charges including abduction of a person under the age of 14 and assault with a weapon. Shanks appeared in court Monday morning, according to police, and remains in custody until her next expected appearance on Friday.

Police said investigators with the sexual assault and child abuse unit believe the accused may have talked to other new mothers on similar groups.

Armstrong said the harrowing ordeal has left her shaken.

"I'm definitely not using free groups anymore. I wanted to tell everybody to just be careful, because we're giving our addresses out on the internet and we were raised to not do that," Armstrong said.

She and the baby's father Nicholas Freda said they are forever grateful their son was returned unharmed, and thankful to those who helped rescue him. 

"I went into tears because I was happy he was back. All that kept going through my head was why us," Freda said.

"I'm probably never going to answer the door again. It's going to take awhile for me to be OK again," Armstrong said.

Neighbour Christina Feher said her son was one of the people who chased after the woman who took the baby. (Francis Ferland/CBC)