“All behaviour has meaning and we’re only as sick as our secrets and we all have them,” were the words of a sexual assault survivor speaking at Northumberland PROBUS on Thursday morning.
Kingstonian Kerri Tadeu is in her 40th year but was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and avoided certain death at 11-years-old by a now known serial child kidnaping rapist and murderer.
She remembers being only 50 feet away when she experienced the ‘gift of fear’ when she saw her abductor exit his vehicle and approach her and force her into his vehicle by knife point, tie her hands together to eliminate any chance of an escape and drove her to a wooded area where he planned to kill her.
“I never grieved for the little girl that turned into a broken woman” she said. “A key message I’d like to share is all behaviour has meaning.”
Keeping her abduction a secret for over 20 years, Tadeu now speaks about moving from pain to purpose and sharing “what happened for her, not what happened to her,”
Tadeu is the author of Secrets Keep You Sick. Her professional background is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse (since 2003) after coming from a dysfunctional family and leaving home at the age of 15.
Despite her background, she didn’t want to acknowledge the assault and the issues that followed including anxiety, hyper-vigilance and eventually Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I didn’t want to face the pain of having to lean into the horrific memories I had of being at the mercy of a serial child kidnaping rapist and murderer.”
“People learn to love their chains to avoid pain and change” Tadeu told the audience in a room where if silence was audible, then the absence of sound was deafening as she spoke about having a childhood she had to recover from as an adult.
The predator who had sexually assaulted two nine year olds before Tadeu was escalating in his assaults when he kidnaped Tadeu.
“The first location he drove me to was very, very traumatic and the second location was a wooded area where he walked me deep into the forest to execute his plan to plunge a knife into my back and hide my little body in a large black garbage bag.”
Tadeu credits Sharon Ansell at Victim Witness Assistance Program and read a very moving letter she wrote to Ansell. Tadeu also wrote a similar letter to Detective Melanie Jefferies from the Kingston Police Force who investigated the cold case. Both women are the reason why Tadeu volunteers her time at speaking engagements across Canada.
Tadeu credits Ansell and Jefferies with “rerouting my recovery.”
Until that point, the brokenness borne from the traumatic details of Tadeu’s experience were internalized as chains of shame, embarrassment, anxiety and fear among many others. Tadeu was pregnant with her third child at the time she disclosed her historic assault. Ansell had a profound impact on Tadeu’s recovery when she stated “The details that have you crippled, saved your life Kerri!” It was a game changer. Something clicked and Tadeu changed the way she viewed the details of her traumatic experience as a life saver not a life sentence”
Tadeu worked hard to break the family cycle of dysfunction and how she chose to do it was through education. She has an extensive resume full of educational accomplishments from St. Lawrence College and Queens University.
A day after her first son was born Apil 22, 2009 one of her friends, Major Michelle Knight-Mendes died in Afghanistan. She was the 118th soldier to die in the Afghan War.
“Suffering in silence for decades secondary to my childhood trauma, I really fell apart after Michelle’s death. I couldn’t comprehend her death.”
Five months after her friend’s death she met Michelle’s parents and sister.
“And that’s when my life really got re-routed. That’s when I received an education about the service and sacrifices of our Canadian Forces members and their family.”
“I don’t have excuses of how I did not know about my freedoms as a Canadian and how I was on the receiving end of Freedom isn’t Free but when Michelle was carried home from Afghanistan as the 118th soldier I realized I had not been paying attention to the first 117 or the thousands before them.”
“Michelle shined in life, Michelle shined very bright in life! After receiving an education about the service and sacrifices of our Canadian Forces members I made a commitment to create a legacy in honour of Michelle for her to shine just as bright in death as she did in life and somewhere along the way try to create solace for her family including her Aunt Linda.”
Since her death, Tadeu has been on a mission to educate people and move from “pain to purpose.”
Meeting Warrant Officer Renay Groves, Tadeu said the pieces fell into place.
“She gave me an education about the service and sacrifice of our Canadian soldiers and veterans and all that they go through that contributes to the epidemic of suicide among veterans”
Groves introduced her to Master Corproal (retired) Collin Fitzgerald who was awarded the Military Medal of Valour for his heroic actions in Afghanistan in 2006.
During a suicide attempt on March 9 2013 Fitzgerald was shot six times by police with a bean bag gun and he was ordered to seek treatment at a mental health facility.
After receiving treatment for his Operational Stress Injuries he returned home where over the course of several months Fitzgerald was falsely arrested several times in 2014 and 2015 but was eventually exonerated of all charges in 2016.
Tadeu took on the journey of helping a Canadian War Hero, by listening to his pain and being proactive to help Collin to help himself recover from his compounding traumatic experiences during his war at home and help him move from pain to living a life of purpose.
Christmas Eve of 2014, Fitzgerald screamed to Tadeu over the phone saying all he wanted for Christmas was a shotgun in his mouth.
“I evoked myself into Collin’s struggles secondary to Michelle’s death.”
“Collin is alive today, because Michelle isn’t.”
Explaining to the audience it is a bittersweet feeling.“The change that Master Corporal (retired) Collin Fitzgerald and I are affecting, I would give it all back to have Michelle here with us, but I can’t, so I do what I can, when I can and where I can to affect change in her honour”
Both Fitzgerald and Tadeu have been affecting change throughout Canada.
After adopting a 1.18 kilometre stretch of the Highway of Heroes at Grafton, the pair along with Cpl. Nick Kerr adopted the entire section of the Highway of Heroes.
Along the highway there are little blue signs that state “We Remember” and there are 158 of them installed representing each one of the fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan War. There are four larger ones, that honour the four civilians that were killed in Afghanistan. This adoption was greatly supported by Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada and former Chief of Defence General (retired) Walter Natynczyk.
Under the Ministry of Transportation’s Adopt A Highway Program the pair clean the on and off ramps of the 344 km stretch of highway at their own cost.
A total of 389 bags of garbage were collected in three weeks working 11 hours a day during the first Spring Clean. The first Fall Clean they collected 260 bags of garbage working 8 hours a day over the course of three weeks.
The ripple effects of the adoption continue.
“People actively drink and drive and they toss their alcohol containers out the window.”
The first ramp they came across there were mickey bottles all across an area, then it was cooler drinks, beer bottles and every other alcoholic container you could think of.
Given containers are $0.10 each, they donated $320 to MADD from all they collected during the first cleaning of the Highway of Heroes.
The second time, they collected a total of $120, but the pair donated $158 to MADD Canada, and no matter what they collect in the future, they will always donate a minimum of $158 to MADD Canada twice a year to honour the 158 fallen.
As a Registered Psychiatric Nurse Tadeu also noticed many plastic bottles containing urine. When she tested a few to analyze, Tadeu was astonished to learn the dangerous test strip results in the urine bottles that come from transport drivers and other drivers along Canada’s busiest highway.
“There are a lot of drivers out there that are dehydrated. The colour of the urine proves it”. Tadeu and Fitzgerald hypothesis is that the individuals who are throwing their urine containers out the window have untreated medical issues. Their hypothesis is supported by the results of the Chemstrips they dipped in the urine containers on the side of the 401 which showed leukocytes, protein, glucose, ketones and blood in the urine often coupled with high specific gravity (which may be associated with dehydration, diarrhea, emesis, excessive sweating, urinary tract/bladder infection, glucosuria, renal artery stenosis). This could be a big factor in vehicle accidents along the 401. Symptoms of dehydration on its own are fatigue, confusion, anger (road rage), dizziness, disorientation, muscle cramps, fainting.
Contacing universities, the pair are hoping to affect change by studying what can be done to make the highway safer.
After her presentation, Tadeu and Fitzgerald presented a Veteran and his wife in the audience with thank you letters from students at Long Sault Public School.
“We acknowledge the Veteran for their service, but we also acknowledge the spouse and children for their service because we know that when one person in the family serves, the entire family serves.”
Tadeu is a mother of four (ages 5 to 10) and has been with her husband for 20 years.
She received the honourable 2016 Attorney General’s Victim Services Awards of Distinction for her dedication to helping victims of crime by advocating and raising awareness of victim’s issues across Ontario. Tadeu volunteers her time to multiple police agencies across the province to give back to police services after being on the receiving end of exceptional services as a victim of crime from Detective Melanie Jefferies with the Kingston Police.
Photos are of Tadeu and Fitzgerald presenting a Veteran and his wife in the audience with “thank you” letters from students at Long Sault Public School.
Also a photo of Tadeu at 11-years-old.
Kerri Tadeu will be in Cobourg this coming Friday at 5 p.m. on March 16 and will share her story live on Northumberland 89.7 with Pete Fisher and Dave Glover