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Jewish Federation of Ottawa CEO Andrea Freedman reads a statement from the family of Adi Vital-Kaploun who was killed by Hamas, on Oct. 11, in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Adi Vital-Kaploun’s last moments would have been pure horror. Not only were Hamas gunmen in her house, intent on killing her, they had her two young sons as well.

Ms. Vital-Kaploun, a 33-year-old Canadian citizen with ties to Ottawa, was shot in front of her two sons, four-year-old Negev and 4½-month-old Eshel, according to Dina Zaslacski, a family friend.

The family was told by the Israeli military that her body was then shoved under Negev’s bed and booby-trapped so it would explode whenever someone tried to pull her out, Ms. Zaslacski said.

“They put bombs all over her body and her dad was in the house. Thank God he didn’t open the door,” Ms. Zaslacski said, weeping as she spoke to The Globe and Mail.

She said the family wanted the full truth told because they were outraged by reports in Arab media that quoted Hamas saying an Israeli mother and her two children had been freed in an apparent act of goodwill.

Several Arab channels aired footage of a woman, hugging a small boy while seemingly carrying another. Ms. Zaslacski said the woman in the footage was a neighbour, Avital Aldjem, who brought the two boys to safety after their mother was killed.

Ms. Zaslacski said the four-year-old “saw his mother being shot.” Negev, she says, “remembers everything.”

Israel-Hamas war so far: What to know about the attacks, casualties, hostages and the response

Until Wednesday, friends and relatives believed Ms. Vital-Kaploun was a hostage of Hamas, somewhere in the Gaza Strip. That faint hope that she could somehow survive disappeared when the military found her body in the family’s home in Holit, a tiny kibbutz in the Negev Desert. It had taken days to find her because of the number of booby-traps Hamas had laid in the house.

“They neutralized the bombs and then they found the body under the firstborn’s bed, with bombs,” Ms. Zaslacski said.

“We are shocked, our heart is broken,” said Moshiko Bengiat, a childhood friend of Ms. Vital-Kaploun’s who served as the family’s spokesman during the search for her.

In a statement read on behalf of Ms. Vital-Kaploun’s family, Andrea Freedman, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, described her as a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, niece and cousin.

“Her children are miraculously home and safe, but she is not,” Ms. Freedman said. “She was murdered by terrorists in her home, just for being Jewish.”

Ms. Vital-Kaploun was a dual national, with both Canadian and Israeli citizenship, and had a degree in chemical engineering and a background in cybersecurity. Ms. Freedman said she had roots in Ottawa with a large extended family.

Israel-Hamas war live updates

The assault on Holit, previously home to about 200 people, began at dawn Saturday. Ms. Vital-Kaploun and the boys were home alone because her husband, Anani, had gone to a party at another kibbutz to celebrate the end of the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot and had spent the night there.

The Saturday morning nightmare unfolded swiftly. Hamas gunmen entered Holit and began moving house to house, shooting people at random. When they got to the Vital-Kaploun residence, at the end of a row of houses, they threw a grenade inside and fired repeatedly at the door.

Ms. Vital-Kaploun and the boys crouched inside, taking shelter as best they could in a closet. At 12:30, about six hours after the attack began, she texted her husband to warn him to stay away.

“She told him, ‘Don’t come out, don’t try to join us, don’t open the door to anyone.’ By doing so, she saved his life,” Mr. Bengiat recounted. “She also saved her kids.”

How she managed to persuade the gunmen to spare her sons isn’t clear. An hour after the mayhem began, a neighbour, Ms. Aldjem, was hiding in her own house when Hamas fighters threw or fired a grenade inside, killing a fellow kibbutznik who had taken refuge with her.

Ms. Aldjem was dragged into the living room and had Negev and Eshel thrust at her. “They said, ‘Do you know these kids?’ and she said, ‘Yes,’ ” Mr. Bengiat recounted. Both boys were badly injured. Negev had been shot in the leg, and his baby brother would later be treated for breathing problems.

Ms. Aldjem and the boys were then used as human shields as the militants continued moving through Holit, killing at random. “They moved us between houses, with destruction and blood everywhere,” Ms. Aldjem told Israel’s N12 television station. “They were setting houses on fire and also burning vehicles.”

It briefly seemed that she and the boys would be taken to Gaza as hostages. “We were on the way to Gaza, me and the kids and the terrorists,” she said, but Negev kept screaming that he didn’t want to go – until the militants decided against taking the children with them. “I could see Gaza houses, then they said, ‘That’s it! Now you go!’ And they dropped the kid and just went into Gaza.”

Ms. Aldjem then walked back across the desert with the two boys toward Holit, carrying Eshel in her dress while Negev limped along on his wounded leg. They came across another group of Hamas militants and hid behind a sand dune before they finally found the Israeli soldiers who escorted them to safety.

Mr. Bengiat, who has known Ms. Vital-Kaploun since they were both eight years old, described his friend as “an amazing woman, an amazing mother and the kindest person I know.” He said she and her husband had chosen kibbutz life – planting trees and growing mangoes in the desert – because she “deliberately chose the uncomfortable. That’s Adi in a few words. She did what was right, not what was comfortable.”

Mr. Bengiat spoke to The Globe and Mail on Monday but requested that her story not be published until her fate was clearer, in case she was indeed being held hostage by Hamas. He said Israeli authorities had warned the family that publicizing Ms. Vital-Kaploun’s connection to Canada could result in her receiving worse treatment at the hands of her abductors.

Even when he believed his friend was being held hostage, Mr. Bengiat said he wanted to see the Israeli government and army punish – not negotiate with – Hamas and the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip who celebrated Saturday’s attack.

“People don’t understand the magnitude of this. This is our 9/11. Except they weren’t killed in an airplane crash, they were murdered one by one. Raped and kidnapped,” he said. “The retaliation we’re expecting is literally the annihilation of the entire strip.”

That appears to be what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s military leadership have in mind. Israeli warplanes have been pounding Gaza since Saturday, and about 360,000 reservists are massing ahead of an expected ground operation to capture or kill Hamas’s leadership and recover the remaining 150 or so hostages.

“There’s no way back from this,” Mr. Bengiat said. “The main expectation now is that we win.”

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