Lone ranger: A hero police officer has taken on an AK-47-wielding gang in a battle waged outside a high school in Gauteng. Photo: Jennifer Bruce, The Star
July 25 2007 at 07:08AM
A hero police officer has taken on an AK-47-wielding gang in a battle waged outside a high school - killing one member and injuring another.
Armed with only his service pistol, West Rand Dog Unit Inspector Okkie Vermeulen battled an eight-member gang that robbed the Standard Bank branch in Florida on Tuesday.
The remaining six gangsters made off with an undisclosed amount of cash - described as "substantial" by West Rand police spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Ndlovu.
Vermeulen heard about the bank robbery on his police radio and tracked the getaway car.
He was then forced to return fire after one of the gangsters, who noticed the police officer following his car, jumped out and started opened fire - just outside the Florida school, where hundreds of pupils were spilling out of the gates after their final lessons.
Fresh from a three-week firearm training course, Vermeulen felled the gunman - a Zimbabwean citizen out on bail for another bank robbery - by shooting him in a leg.
He fatally shot another robber in the head.
Ndlovu said the robber's AK-47 was "fully loaded" when he was shot.
"We can only thank God that he was stopped before many, many people were killed or hurt. It was a miracle."
The car was abandoned by two gangsters, who fled on foot. The others, in two other cars, managed to evade the cops.
Police officers said screaming schoolchildren had pointed them to the scene of the shooting, less than a kilometre away from the scene of the robbery.
"The children were traumatised … they didn't say anything, they just pointed," one officer told The Star.
The surviving robber - recovering in hospital - seemed far less disturbed by Tuesday's events.
Confronted by several members of the police's bank robbery unit, he greeted one of the officers by name and joked that "I haven't seen you for a while … are you well?"
The Star has learnt that the robbery was conducted by a highly professional gang known to the police, and which consists of several foreign nationals.
They are understood to have pulled into the parking lot behind the Standard Bank in Goldman Street, Florida, just before 2pm.
Armed with several AK-47 rifles, they stormed through the front entrance, forcing the bank's security guard to tie up his guard dog.
One of the men is understood to have used a hammer to smash the bulletproof glass separating bank tellers from customers to have cash passed through.
Terrified customers were robbed of cellphones and money before the gang left, carrying big bags of cash.
The latest crime statistics show that aggravated robberies - which include bank hits - are on the increase. Last year they jumped from 4,6 percent, from 119 726 to 126 558.
This article was originally published on page 3 of The Star on July 25, 2007