Family recalls the day of horror when their bundle of joy, Shelby, was snatched from the maternity ward in 1993

By Joe Warmington

Sat, November 3, 2007


"Being just born I don't remember it but I know it was hard on my parents."

-- Shelby Walsh on her Christmas 1993 kidnapping


For the Walsh family of Stoney Creek every day is Christmas.

And every day is a miracle, too.

You get thankful and sentimental like that when both are literally stolen from you -- and then, miraculously and heroically, returned.

It was an excruciating time for this family back 14 years ago this coming Christmas. If anybody has any understanding of what the Sudbury family, whose baby was plucked out of the maternity ward Wednesday, is going through it is the Walshes.

"The problem is after your baby is found, it's not over," Diana Walsh said yesterday of the trauma. "You still have stuff to go through. Any major event like that changes the course of your life."


To have the joy of a newborn, to have her kidnapped and then have her rescued is an awful lot for parents to handle. It was a hell of an 11-hour roller-coaster for them and for the whole region.

As one of the reporters who covered this I can tell you it was some crisis -- and a snapshot into the worst of society meeting some of the best.

Flashback to Dec. 23, 1993. Before there was an Amber Alert there was a Shelby Alert.

Word spread fast that a woman dressed as a nurse had entered the maternity area of Burlington's Joseph Brant Hospital and fled with a bundle. Just like that, 5-day-old Baby Shelby was gone -- vanished with some stranger whose identity was as much a mystery as was her motive.

Shelby's parents Diana and Glenn, brother Michael, now 21, and sister Caitlin, now 19, were beyond mortified -- as was the whole community, which immediately went to work to find this little girl. Police, bus drivers, cab drivers, commuters and pedestrians turned over every stone.

It was two women working in a drug store who thought a woman buying different kinds of baby formula didn't sit right. They passed the tip on to Halton Regional Police Sgt. Lee-Ann Ansell and Det.-Const. Chris Perrin, both of whom were off shift but had come in to help search.

Smartly they entered a nearby motel room and found Baby Shelby under the covers in the bed and the suspect trying to hide behind the curtains. The mystery was solved. The baby was saved and the suspect arrested. They are heroes of the highest order -- as were Judith Good and Kathleen Langdon of the Big-V drug store.

The headlines read The Christmas Miracle!

Baby Shelby was a nice Christmas present to the region.

In 2007 Baby Shelby is now 13.

"She's a young lady now," said her mom. "She will be 14 on Dec. 18."

The ninth grader at Cardinal Newman Secondary School considers herself just a regular kid but does get a kick that she was at one time Canada's most famous newborn. "It is strange," she said last night. "I have the knowledge of it but I don't think my life has really been all that different."


Although she does still stay in touch with Ansell, Perrin and Det. Doug Ford, a lot of her friends don't even know about the story which doesn't come up on a daily basis.

Although she does not let what happened rule her life, she said she does consider her parents' fear and goes out of her way to try to lower their anxiety. "I can't imagine what they went through, so I try to be careful," she said.

She wouldn't want them to go through it again. Diana said she appreciates that.

"I am just glad she doesn't have the memories I have," she said.

As far as reliving it, Diana said, you actually do every time you hear of a child gone missing. This case in Sudbury was even more heightened in her consciousness since it had such similar circumstances. "I was so worked up about it," said Diana. "It was disturbing."

It brought it all back and it was so horrific, she shut off her TV, and did not turn it or her radio on in the morning. "I just was too afraid," she said of what she might hear.

When I told her that the baby had been located and that arrests had been made she said loudly, "Thank God."

I was feeling the same way Thursday night, en route to Sudbury, when I heard the news from OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino. "As a grandfather myself I am so relieved," he said. "One of the successes of this is the Amber Alert."

He is right since with its help, two suspects are in custody.

But although everybody's happy, Diana Walsh warns that upcoming proceedings will be very tough on the baby's family. I remember well the pain she went through at the trial of Shelby's abductor Karen Susan Hill, who had a bizarre back story of many aliases, running from justice and of pretending to be nine-months pregnant.

When it was settled, Hill, then 48, was sentenced to serve seven years in prison for what Justice Patrick Lesage called "an evil crime." Hill served her full sentence and was later extradited to the United States on other legal matters. Her whereabouts is unknown.

The Walshes don't worry she could sneak back into their lives but do acknowledge the damage she caused is lifelong.

With this latest case, while most people can't imagine what the infant's parents are going through, Diana Walsh can.

I will never forget Diana Walsh telling the court in her victim-impact statement March 21, 1994 that "I was so sure that she was dead ... in a dumpster or a snowbank."

Those were a terrifying and soul-altering 11 hours that have left their scars. On the bright side, she gets up every morning, sees her daughter and remembers it is Christmas time.