Faye Cassista received a chilling message on a September day in 2015 — one of her clients was dead and police wanted to speak to her about the case.
Immediately after hearing of Anastasia Kuzyk’s death, Cassista, the high-risk co-ordinator at Victim Services of Renfrew County, rushed to phone her other client — Nathalie Warmerdam — to warn her that she might be next.
Kuzyk and Warmerdam were both previously in relationships with Basil Borutski, a man with a known history of violence against women, and lived in fear of him, Cassista told a coroner’s inquest Monday.
The fear was especially real for Warmerdam, who consistently followed up with probation and parole officers to get information about Borutski’s whereabouts after his release from prison in late December 2014, Cassista said. The inquest previously heard that Borutski once told Warmerdam that if one of his exes ever pressed charges that landed him in jail, he would eventually kill them.
Cassista tried to reach Warmerdam on her home phone and cell phone that day, to urge her to head somewhere safe, but the support worker couldn’t get through, the inquest heard.
“I knew that Nathalie was in great danger at that moment,” Cassista said in tears as she recalled the tragedy.
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“I think any one of us that worked with these women, we failed them somehow because we all did our best, but you can’t stop somebody … What could we have done different, what could we have done?”
The inquest is examining the deaths of Kuzyk, Warmerdam and Carol Culleton — who were all killed by Borutski on Sept. 22, 2015 — and is considering ways to protect victims of intimate partner violence, particularly in rural communities.
Borutski began an hour-long rampage across the Ottawa Valley that day, first strangling 66-year-old Culleton to death at her cottage. He then stole her car and drove to 36-year-old Kuzyk’s house, where he shot her to death as her sister ran for her life. From there, Borutski drove to 48-year-old Warmerdam’s home and shot her to death as her son fled.
Cassista said she spent the better half of that day supporting the families of Kuzyk and Warmerdam, noting that she never interacted with Culleton because her primary residence wasn’t in Renfrew County.
She remembered Warmerdam as an “amazing woman” who loved nature and was “really proactive” in her and her children’s safety and Kuzyk as a “private” woman who loved horses and was ready to move on from her past with Borutski and “be free” of him.
Warmerdam was planning to move far from Renfrew County, Cassista said, noting that her client had a plan to go house hunting later in the week she was killed.
“It was a tragic tragedy,” Cassista said.
The triple homicide had a lasting impact on the community, especially on other victims of intimate partner violence who became scared to leave their abusive homes, she noted.
“It put a lot of fear into the women,” Cassista explained. “A lot of women stayed, because now it’s real, if something like this happened, and it’s very public.”
For Cassista, the tragedy put into perspective how little people know about intimate partner violence.
About a month after the tragedy, she said she was involved in setting up a community display at a mall in Renfrew County aimed at educating people about intimate partner violence. There was still lots of discussion about the triple homicide, Cassista said, but what she didn’t expect was the number of people who empathized with Borutski.
“I was quite shocked, quite shocked to hear that people thought he just had a mental health issue issue and he snapped, he was crazy. The lack of intimate partner violence (knowledge) that people did not have sort of opened my eyes,” she said.
“There is a lot more work that has to be done around educating people.”
When asked what could have or should have been done better to protect Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam, Cassista began tearing up once again.
“I don’t know if there’s an answer because if somebody is that dedicated and devoted to harming you, you can’t walk around 24/7 with a gun in your pocket expecting somebody to kill you ,” she said.
“I think we’ve all looked at it over and over again and I hope we can continue to keep women safe and we do the best we can and then after that, I don’t know. I wish somebody would be able to answer that question for me as well some days.”