Saturday, 26 February 2005

Gauteng family tells of robbery ordeal

Jonathan Ancer

February 25 2005 at 07:31AM

'I can't stay any longer.

I must go."

These were 36-year-old Coenie Pretorius's dying words to his wife Petro as he lay in her arms. "It's okay," she responded.

Petro, 35, told Magda, Coenie's sister - who was at her bedside in hospital on Thursday - that Coenie looked peaceful as he died.

The tragedy that befell the Pretorius family this week is every family's worst nightmare.

Coenie, Petro and their children - 12-year-old Coenie and eight-year-old Estleen - had just returned to their home in Muldersdrift after a church service.

Coenie, who owned his own construction business, was the under-deacon at the Old Apostolic Church of Africa in Muldersdrift.

And, just like every Wednesday evening, about 15 members of the church had gathered for a bread-breaking service to discuss the weekly Scriptures.

After the service, the Pretorius family stopped off at a café to buy bread, milk and soft drinks before turning into their driveway.

Unknown to them, armed robbers were already inside the home they shared with Coenie's parents, Coenie Snr and Hannah, and his brother Jurie, 29, terrorising the rest of their family.

An employee rushed out to warn them there was trouble, but the warning came too late.

Coenie tried to reverse as a man in a balaclava emerged and fired two shots at the windscreen.

Coenie tried to drive away. As the bakkie lurched forward, the gunman ran alongside, firing three more shots. Coenie, who was shot in the chest, lost control and smashed into a tree. Petro was shot in the abdomen.

Twenty-five minutes earlier, Jurie - who lives on his own with a separate entrance at the back of the house - had made the same 5km journey. But he had left the church with a pistol pointed at his head.

On Thursday, Jurie, Magda and Coenie Snr were at the plot, reliving Wednesday's horrible events.

The three talked about the ordeal that started when Jurie closed the church after the service.

With him at the church gate were fellow parishioners Eugene and Elsie Pienaar. Watching them from a field across the road were four armed men.

"I closed the gate, and when I turned around, there was a gun in my face. Someone was pointing a gun at Eugene's head," Jurie explained.

The attacker ordered him to lie on his abdomen. "They demanded that we give them our wallets and jewellery."

The attackers ordered Eugene and Elsie to climb into Jurie's car. Eugene was loaded into the boot and Jurie was told to drive home.

"If you've got a gun at your head you'll drive to hell and back. I took them to my place at the back, hoping they would take what they wanted and leave. But they wanted to go into the main house."

Jurie and Elsie were marched to the main house, while Eugene was left in the boot.

The men wanted Coenie Snr's jewellery. The 56-year-old father on Thursday pointed to his fingers, where rings had been pulled off.

"I'm like Liberace, that's my way. They pulled off my rings, my Krugerrand medallion and my arm chains. They pulled off more than R30 000 in jewellery."

They took Coenie Snr's ties and shoelaces, bound the four hostages and began ransacking the house.

"I heard five gunshots. I didn't know what was happening. Then I heard a car race off and a big bang. I looked at my watch - it was 9.20. I decided to wait five more minutes to make sure it was safe to go out," Jurie said. During this time, the children began screaming.

Jurie rushed out and found his sister-in-law cradling his brother.

"It was the worst. My big brother lying on the ground. I checked for vital signs but I couldn't feel anything. We decided to rush him and Petro to hospital. The children were praying aloud."

"The paramedic examined Coenie and said: 'Sorry, sir, there's nothing to revive.' I went back to the bakkie and took Petro's hand. She looked at me and said: 'I know'."

When they arrived at Olivedale Clinic, Jurie took the children aside and broke the bad news to them.

Yesterday he flicked through family photos of his brother and Petro with his children. "Lots of people looked up to him. I did. He was a wonderful person."

The gunmen had fled in Jurie's car with Eugene still in the boot, later abandoning the car in Lanseria.

Eugene bashed the boot with the car's jack and wheel spanner to free himself.

Police Superintendent Milica Bezuidenhout said that after an extensive search of the area, a suspect was arrested about midnight.

"After questioning the suspect and following leads, six other suspects were arrested before daybreak. A 9mm pistol was seizedand jewellery was found in their possession."

"There is to be an ID parade, but if they are not identified in the parade, it doesn't matter. We found stolen goods in their possession," said Bezuidenhout.

The seven suspects were due to appear in the Krugersdorp magistrate's court on Friday on charges of armed robbery, murder, attempted murder and kidnapping.

Petro was in a stable condition in hospital on Thursday night.

This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on February 25, 2005


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