Before she was accused of killing her three young children, Sonia Blanchette would spend time scouring already-clean ovens at her restaurant job because she told colleagues the extra work helped her forget how much she missed her kids.
Colleagues described her as a doting mother who liked to show off photos of her kids on her cellphone.
She also spoke frequently about them while she worked as a full-time cook at a casual Greek restaurant in the city of Drummondville, Que.
On some occasions, though, Ms. Blanchette talked about her troubles. She described not being able to see her children, to whom she only had restricted access due to a custody order.
A portrait is emerging of Ms. Blanchette, who is facing three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anais, 2, Loic, 4, and Lorelie, 5.
Their bodies were found at her home Sunday in Drummondville, about an hour from Montreal.
One of Ms. Blanchette’s former colleagues said she had a positive attitude at work — but often spoke about how deeply she missed seeing her children.
“She frequently told me, ‘I can’t wait to see my kids, they’re coming over on Sunday,’” said Daniel Jones, a night-time kitchen supervisor at Cite Grecque, in an interview this week.
Mr. Jones described her as a tireless worker who was always cleaning something in the kitchen, when she wasn’t preparing dishes like souvlaki and surf-and-turf.
He recalled that Ms. Blanchette sometimes cleaned stoves on consecutive days, which wasn’t necessary.
“She was a scrubber — she was working all the time,” he said.
“She would say, ‘It does me good because I don’t think about my children.’ ”
A court decision had limited Ms. Blanchette to supervised access to the kids every second Sunday.
Ms. Blanchette, 33, will undergo a psychiatric assessment to determine if she’s fit to stand trial. Her next court appearance is December 14th.
A funeral for the children is planned for Saturday in the town of Acton Vale.
Mr. Jones worked alongside Ms. Blanchette for about nine months until September, when she left the restaurant on friendly terms to take a job at a garden centre.
He said she had taken up running in an effort to lose weight while they worked together and that she had an unusual habit of addressing colleagues with the formal French pronoun “vous.”
Mr. Jones said he was sad to see her leave, particularly since she was always smiling and joking around at work.
“She spoke loudly and when she started laughing ... she laughed so hard that sometimes (she was told), ‘Not so loud, be quiet, we can hear you laughing in the front (of the restaurant),’ ” Mr. Jones said.
The restaurant’s owner said Ms. Blanchette, whom she hired in January, was a good employee and that she never had any trouble with her.
Manon Rougeau, whose employees were shaken up after news broke about the murder charges, was aware that Ms. Blanchette was involved in a custody battle over her children.
“She adored them, that’s for sure,” said Ms. Rougeau. “She was always happy to see her kids.”
Ms. Rougeau said she wasn’t aware of another legal problem Ms. Blanchette had.
Ms. Blanchette had been charged with abduction in violation of the custody order.
Quebec provincial police had been called to investigate when the mother allegedly took off with her then-14-month-old daughter after losing a custody battle with her ex.
Media reports at the time said police managed to track her down a day later and arrest her without incident. That older case is ongoing.
Ms. Blanchette is scheduled to return to court in that previous case on Jan. 11, 2013, according to legal records. However, it’s unclear what will happen with those charges now.
She used to walk to work from home, less than a kilometre from the restaurant.
Outside the home, in a span of 15 minutes this week, a half-dozen cars could be seen slowing or stopping on the typically quiet residential street. The people inside the vehicles gazed up at the front door to Ms. Blanchette’s home.
The children’s bodies had been removed from Ms. Blanchette’s second-floor unit.
In front of the home, a three-metre by three-metre pile of plush toys had been placed on the lawn near the foot of the outdoor stairway.
Mourners had also placed a porcelain angel and several white candles emblazoned with the words “hope,” “faith” and “love” on some of the lower steps.