VANCOUVER -- One of B.C’s most notorious child-killers, Shane Ertmoed, has been granted escorted leaves from his minimum security prison.

Ertmoed is serving a life sentence for the murder of Heather Thomas, who was just 10 years old when she was abducted from the front of her father’s townhouse complex in Cloverdale in the year 2000.

According to his confession, Ertmoed tried to sexually assault Heather, but she struggled. He then strangled her with his hands.

Thomas’ disappearance sparked a major search effort involving hundreds of community volunteers. Her body was discovered weeks later in Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park.

Thomas’ mother, Jody Aspin, says she has struggled every day since her daughter went missing.

“Twenty-one years, it’s gone by very quickly,” Aspin said. “I’ve had no peace whatsoever … I've had absolutely no time to heal.”

On Tuesday, Aspin took part in a virtual parole hearing for Ertmoed. For the first time, Aspin read a victim impact statement directly to the man who killed her daughter.

“I really needed to do that,” she said. “I needed him to hear what I go through on a daily basis because of what he’s done … He needed to hear my voice, not just words written on paper. He needed to hear my voice. He killed my daughter. He killed me.”

Other victims also spoke during the hearing, including Aspin’s mother, Heather’s stepmother, childhood friends and one of the investigating officers who worked on the case.

Aspin’s longtime lawyer Rebecca Darnell says after about 30 minutes of deliberating, the parole board decided to grant Ertmoed’s request for escorted temporary absences to help him “rehabilitate and reintegrate.”

The leaves are subject to conditions: They can happen five days a week, Monday to Friday, but are not to exceed eight hours per day. He will be escorted by trained corrections staff or volunteers, and he also must not have any contact with girls under the age of 16.

Darnell says Ertmoed plans to work with nonprofit organizations in the Victoria area. She’s concerned he may use the position to look for new victims.

“Nonprofits in British Columbia typically service vulnerable individuals and very often single mothers with children,” Darnell said. “Not only have they let him out, they have allowed him to go into a situation where it’s going to be easy pickings for him.”

The escorted leaves are set to begin when COVID-19 restrictions ease. Until then, Darnell says, she and Aspin plan to “make a lot of noise” to try and get the decision overturned.

“We need to look at legislative reform (to) the Corrections and Conditions Release Act and the Parole Act,” she said. “Maybe what we need is to have an inquiry.”