Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mom accused of killings 'adored' her three kids

Co-workers call Quebecer hard worker, doting parent

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DRUMMONDVILLE, Que. -- 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, Blanchette talked about her troubles. She described not being able to see her children; she only had restricted access to them due to a custody order.

A portrait is emerging of Blanchette, who is facing three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anaïs, 2, Loïc, 4, and Lorélie, 5.

Their bodies were found Sunday at her home in Drummondville, about an hour from Montreal.

One of 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 nighttime kitchen supervisor at Cité Grecque, in an interview this week.

Jones described her as a tireless worker who was always cleaning something in the kitchen when she wasn't cooking.

He recalled 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 Blanchette to supervised access to the kids every second Sunday.

Blanchette, 33, will undergo a psychiatric assessment to determine if she's fit to stand trial. Her next court appearance is Dec. 14.

A funeral for the children is planned for today in the town of Acton Vale.

Jones worked alongside 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 she had an unusual habit of addressing colleagues with the formal French pronoun "vous."

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),' " Jones said.

The restaurant's owner said Blanchette, whom she hired in January, was a good employee and she never had any trouble with her.

Manon Rougeau, whose employees were shaken up after news broke about the murder charges, was aware Blanchette was involved in a custody battle over her children.

"She adored them, that's for sure," said Rougeau. "She was always happy to see her kids."

The boss said she wasn't aware of another legal problem Blanchette had.

She 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 tracked her down a day later and arrested her without incident. That older case is ongoing.

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.

One of her neighbours said she tried to avoid Blanchette as much as possible. She described the woman as "special," but declined to give her name or share any details about why she felt that way about Blanchette.

Outside the home this week, a three-metre-by-three-metre pile of plush toys had been placed on the lawn near the foot of the outdoor stairway. A porcelain angel and several white candles emblazoned with the words "hope," "faith" and "love" were on a couple of the lower steps.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 A24

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