October 17 2009 at 11:53AM
Moments after leaving a club where he celebrated his 23rd birthday, a Pretoria University student was hijacked, tied up, blindfolded and bundled into the boot of his car.
Unaware of his surroundings a terrified Latke van Dorssen called his father from his cellphone from inside the boot of his silver VW Polo to plead for help as his attackers raced away with him. Shortly after the call, police were frantically searching for the four men who had attacked Van Dorssen in Hatfield as he left a club after celebrating his birthday during the early hours of yesterday.
Within minutes of the hijacking, the culprits, who were armed with a handgun, were driving Van Dorssen to an informal settlement in Mamelodi East. Once they stopped, the men pulled the student out of the boot and into a shack where they repeatedly punched and beat him.
Terrified, Van Dorssen pleaded for his life, bargaining with the hijackers, promising them lots of money if they allowed him to live. The hijackers ignored him and demanded the location of his vehicle's tracking device, cigarettes and the pin code to his bank card.
It is believed that while the gunmen were standing outside the shack contemplating holding Van Dorssen to ransom, they spotted approaching police officers and fled leaving their victim behind.
Van Dorssen, speaking to the Pretoria News after his dramatic rescue by the Pretoria Flying Squad and Dog Unit, said if he had not somehow managed to keep his cellphone in his pants pocket he would be dead. "No one would have known where I was. When the men attacked me I tried to fight back but they overpowered me and grabbed my wallet as they pushed me into the boot," he said.
Recalling how his ordeal unfolded, Van Dorssen said the attack began when one of his hijackers pretended to be a car guard. "As I turned to give them money they hit me and pushed me into the boot. When we eventually stopped they pulled me from the boot, shoved me into a shack and tied me up with my shoelaces and blindfolded me. I thought this is it. I thought I was never going to see my family again," he said.
Van Dorssen said when one of the men began to throttle him and shove things into his mouth, he thought it was the end. "I was blindfolded and I could not see anything. I was screaming at them begging them to let me live, but they kept on hitting me and pushing me around, yelling at me, demanding money and valuables.
"I begged them over and over again to let me live. I told them my father had lots of money and that if they let me go they could have it," he said. It is believed that while discussing Van Dorssen's promise of riches one of the men, who had found Van Dorssen's cellphone in his pants pocket when beating him, spotted approaching police cars and the group fled.
Unbeknown to Van Dorssen was that when the shack door was thrown open it was not his attackers but the police. "When I heard the door open I thought I was going to die. I just prayed over and over again for help," he said, describing how it was only after constables Madeleine Fouche and Rena Hoorzak rushed him from the shack that he realised it was the police.
While Fouche and Hoorzak rushed Van Dorssen to safety, Inspector Gary Cooper, along with police from the Dog Unit, tried to catch the suspects, who managed to escape.
Van Dorssen said: "When I realised that I was safe I wanted to collapse. I could not stop shaking. I was so grateful to be alive.
"These policemen and women who helped me are my heroes. They came to my rescue without thinking about themselves. They don't even know me, but they risked their lives for me," he said.
Captain Colette Weilbach, Brooklyn police station spokesperson, said police also recovered Van Dorssen's vehicle.
This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on October 17, 2009