July 27 2007 at 05:29AM
After fighting for his life for nearly 24 hours, the hero of Thursday's botched and bloody armed robbery at a late-night supermarket in Pretoria has been declared dead.
Gathered outside the entrance of Pretoria Academic Hospital's intensive care unit, Gert van Rensburg's family broke down in tears as doctors gave them the news.
Van Rensburg, 41, and his fiance, Patrys Claasen, 53, were caught up in the violence in Claremont on Wednesday night when five men, armed with an assortment of handguns, stormed Dealz Family Store.
It is believed that the robbers had been staking out the store, in Bremer Road, for several days before launching their attack - and may be responsible for two other violent business robberies in the area in the past 72 hours.
It is believed that the robbers had been staking out the store for several days
Van Rensburg, who was one of the first to spot the gunmen storming the shop, managed to push three children out of the supermarket before the robbers opened fire, shooting indiscriminately at customers and staff.
Van Rensburg was shot execution-style in the back of his head while dragging the wounded Claasen and a critically injured Wilma Venter behind an ice-cream fridge.
Claasen was shot in the buttocks and hand as she lay on the floor, while Venter was shot through the head while trying to push her way past the gunmen.
The robbers also shot cashier Aletta Koen and her boss, Paula Oosthuizen, who were behind the counter, in the legs.
They then shot and critically injured customer Jacqueline Grobbelaar, who was waiting to pay for her shopping.
'That man is a true hero'
The gunmen, thought to be in their early 20s, fled past Grobbelaar's husband, Gawie Maritz, who was cowering outside the shop behind his car with his mentally handicapped son Arno, eight.
The two had been waiting for her while she was buying milk.
One of the gunmen, who apparently tried to hijack Maritz, shoved a gun into their faces and opened fire, but the bullet missed them. The robber then fled, still firing at the two as they ran into the shop for cover.
Maritz on Thursday described how he saw Van Rensburg pushing three children from the store as the robbers launched their attack.
"That man is a true hero. I have never met him before, but what he did for the children and the people inside the store saved their lives," he said.
Maritz said the bullet that hit his wife, whom doctors spent seven hours operating on, pierced her left lung, spleen, colon and small intestine before lodging in her pelvis.
He said he and the other families owed a big debt to Van Rensburg.
"He paid with his life. He gave up his life so other people could live.
"Despite bullets flying everywhere he ran to help others," he said.
Maritz said he was battling to understand why the robbers had opened fire.
"It is really difficult and my son is battling because he does not know where his mom is," he said, adding that doctors had given his wife a 50 percent chance of surviving.
Before going into theatre for another operation, Claasen said she owed her life to her fiance. She had not yet been informed that he was dead.
Describing the attack, she said they had gone to the shop early so they would be in time to watch 7de Laan.
"I remember standing in the shop when I heard a bang and went lame and then falling into Gert's arms.
"I remember him pushing me down and yelling that I had been shot and there were robbers in the store. I tried to get up but he pushed me down again.
"As I looked at him, he grabbed me and the other woman (Venter) and started dragging us.
"I remember closing my eyes and praying. When I opened them again he was lying near me looking at me.
"There was blood everywhere and he was moaning. Bullets were flying as the robbers kept shooting. I did not know what to do. I just kept on talking to him, telling him to stay awake. He blinked and tried to talk, but couldn't.
"I will never forget that look. All I wanted to do was hug him and kiss him. I just want to tell him he is going to be okay," she said.
Claasen said everything had happened so quickly.
"It was like a movie. There was blood everywhere. People were screaming and begging for help. Bullets were flying everywhere and there was nowhere to hide.
"There was nothing we could do," she said.
Van Rensburg's brother, Frik, said the family had decided to donate his brother's organs after doctors declared him brain-dead.
"They will be given to people who need them to survive," he said. "We are battling. We are not coping."
Pretoria Academic Hospital spokesperson Freda Kobo said Venter and Grobbelaar were in critical conditions, while Claasen was stable.
Bougainville Hospital staff said Oosthuizen and Koen were also stable.
Police spokesperson Inspector Paul Ramaloko said no arrests had been made. "Charges of armed robbery, five attempted murders and one murder charge are being investigated," he said.
This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on July 27, 2007