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When Christianne Boudreau’s son, Damien, converted to Islam, adopted a strict set of rules and grew his beard out four years ago at the age of 17, she was accepting and open-minded.
But she noticed other changes in Damien’s behavior: He wouldn’t come to the dinner table if the family was drinking wine. He started taking phone calls outside and became withdrawn. Then, he stopped coming home altogether.
"I just saw it as a phase he was going through," Boudreau told NBC News.
What she didn’t know in 2011 was that her son, who grew up in a Catholic household, was becoming radicalized. Boudreau said she believes he was first introduced to ISIS extremism by someone in their home city of Calgary, Canada, and then lured in further over the Internet by ISIS propaganda in the form of texts and slickly produced videos.
Her experience is echoed in other recent cases that have gained notoriety, as law enforcement tackle the problem of homegrown extremism and would-be terrorists hailing from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. attempting to join ISIS.
"I can't let Damien die in vain ... I don't want anybody else to go through that."
Boudreau said Damien was bright and curious as a boy and became restless as a young adult — searching for a way to have a meaning in life and help others. It was this desire and vulnerability, Boudreau said, that drew him to ISIS recruiters.
"I think they got into his head believing that he was saving women and children, and he was very passionate about women and children and felt that they were easy targets," Boudreau said.
Damien traveled to a training camp in Istanbul in November 2012, then crossed the border into Syria.
Boudreau said she found it impossible to picture her son fighting with ISIS and begged for him to come home.
"He was caring, protective of the family. He loved his little brother with all of his heart, and I couldn't see him hurting a flea, let alone picking up a gun," she said.
Damien never did come home. Instead, Boudreau was contacted by a journalist in January 2014 who was trying to confirm a photo that had been used with a eulogy posted by an ISIS militant.
Boudreau reached out to the militant over Twitter, she said, and he responded by posting a public letter, which said her son had been killed fighting for Allah and that she should be proud.
Boudreau considered the sentiment. "I'm proud of who he was, I'm proud of what his heart was truly. I'm not proud of the choices he made," she said.
"I just wish that I would have known beforehand, what he was going through, so I could have tried to stop him," she added.
Boudreau said that in 2011, Western radicalization wasn’t being widely discussed, and she didn’t know that her son’s "phase" was more than teenage angst.
"I really regret it. Had I known or understood, I would have looked for resources to help," she said.
Boudreau is working to become that resource for families going through the same ordeal that she did. She makes herself available to families and guides them toward resources like a program called “Hayat,” aimed at reversing the radicalization process.
"I can't let Damien die in vain,” Boudreau said. "Knowing what I went through — that really dark, dark tunnel of loneliness and fear and desperation — I don't want anybody else to go through that."