The kidnapping suspect wearing the bright burgundy scrubs of a nurse drifted into Mélissa McMahon’s Trois-Rivières hospital room as if she ran the place.
“It’s time to weigh your baby,” the woman said, confidently taking the bundle named Victoria – all of six pounds and 16 hours old – from the mother’s arms on Monday night, and gliding away.
“She was very calm, she wasn’t stressed. It seemed logical, the baby hadn’t been weighed since her birth,” Ms. McMahon later recounted.
The first sign of trouble, Ms. McMahon and her husband, Simon Boisclair, said Tuesday was that the nurse turned the wrong way when she left the room, toward a nursing station and the exit rather than the nursery. When the mother asked at the desk where to find her baby, she knew they were gone.
The evening was a blur of screams and anguish for Ms. McMahon, ending three hours and 17 minutes later when a police officer placed Victoria back in her arms. Four young adults spurred by social media were hailed as heroes for tracking down the baby and suspect, while a province asked questions about the safety of newborns in hospitals.
Health Minister Gaétan Barrette immediately ordered Quebec’s maternity wards to review security and said he will consider introducing electronic monitoring bracelets for all newborn babies, a step already taken in more than 40 Canadian hospitals.
The main Trois-Rivières hospital at the centre of the drama refused to answer questions Tuesday, but issued a statement saying a security review is under way and procedures will be tightened if necessary.
The 21-year-old suspect was under psychiatric surveillance Tuesday in the same hospital where Victoria was born Monday. The baby was released in good health Tuesday.
Ms. McMahon said nurses on duty Monday night saw the suspect come into the hospital dressed as a medical worker, but none of them knew her or thought to question her.
After realizing the baby was gone, Ms. McMahon raced down two flights of stairs and outside, where she overheard a man speaking critically of a woman who had taken a baby out into a damp, chilly night with no cap or socks. “I knew that it was her. I started screaming. Everyone started crying. It was total panic,” Ms. McMahon told Montreal radio station 98.5.
The man was able to provide a detailed description of the car – a red Toyota Yaris with a “bébé à bord” sign in the window. Combined with photos taken from surveillance video, the police sent out an Amber Alert just after 9 p.m.
Charlène Plante, Mélizanne Bergeron, her twin sister Sharelle Bergeron and Sharelle’s boyfriend Marc-André Côté were bored at home when the alert spread among their Facebook friends. They decided to drive out to see if they could spot the car. “It’s a pretty rare thing that something that exciting happens in Trois-Rivières,” said Sharelle Bergeron.
A few minutes later, a photo went out of the suspect, who happened to be an acquaintance from high school. Ms. Plante used to live in the same building as the woman. “She’s disturbed. There’s a whole story there,” Ms. Plante said, declining to go too deeply into detail.
Mr. Côté, 19, and the three women, all aged 20, drove to the suspect’s home. They saw the red car. They could see through a patio door that the woman was home. They called police, who arrived within minutes. “The adrenalin was flowing to the max,” Mr. Côté said.
Officers kicked in the apartment door, Mr. Côté said, and within a few minutes a police officer walked out with the baby. One of the rescuers had a phone camera rolling, and the women can be heard crying as they touched Victoria.
The rescuers, the officer and baby piled into police cars and rushed to Ms. McMahon, who had packed up the baby’s clothes a half hour earlier. She had sunk so far into despair, she didn’t believe her baby was coming back. “They saved our girl, and they saved our lives,” Ms. McMahon said.
Mr. Côté said he’s never seen a person living so many emotions at once: “Here she’s just given birth. She’s exhausted. Someone takes her baby. She gets her baby back,” he said. “It’s incredible. Just incredible.”
All four of the young adults are students studying in fields where they are likely destined to help others. Sharelle Bergeron is in social work. Ms. Plante is studying education while Mr. Côté is taking psychology as part of his social studies course.
Mélizanne Bergeron is a nurse in training. “I don’t dress up as a nurse, I’m going to be one,” she said in one radio interview.
Praise for the four came from across the country. Mélizanne Bergeron admitted she is proud.
“You have to give credit to these young people,” Premier Philippe Couillard said. “They showed a lot of initiative.”
With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and Jill Mahoney in Toronto and Rhéal Séguin in Quebec City
Watch the moment when Quebec police recover stolen baby
After the three women and young man led police to the apartment where the baby was taken, they waited at the bottom of the stairs to see what would happen. They were rolling a smartphone camera when a police officer emerged from the apartment with the baby.
The video was posted to the Facebook page of Mélizanne Bergeron, one of the 20-year-old women who tracked down the alleged kidnapper.
Mobile users can watch here.