Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Suffer the children...

Sometimes it feels like the stories I cover actually tear my soul. The ones that touch me most deeply and disturb my peace of mind involve children, their pain or death.
Take the murder of 17-year-old Cassandre van Rooyen. She disappeared from a house where she was boarding with a family in February last year. Two days later her body was found metres from the house under some grass cuttings. She had been shot through the back of the head.
Now two angelic-looking boys are facing murder charges in the Joburg High Court, which is where I found myself yesterday morning when they were asked to plead.
I sat next to QuirkyOlderWoman as we watched the boys walk into the court room. The tall one is now 19, and the little one was 15 when he shot his friend Cassandre. They looked worn out. Their parents were supportive, but terribly sad.
The story they told the court was that older boy was in the house cooking, Cassandre was looking for her little dog under a hedge and youngster was getting a gun he had found recently ready for a bit of target practice. One shot went off accidentally and killed Cassandre.
It was one of those crazy, insane incidents. A terribly tragic mistake. I cannot count the number of crime scenes I have been to where scores of shots have been fired – sometimes into peak hour traffic during a police chase, at busy taxi ranks, during bank robberies at busy times, a bit too close to my own person for comfort on a couple of occasions – and yet there were no deaths or even injuries. Attempted suicides, car chases and the like where harm is intended, and there are no casualties.
But there's this ugly flip side. The awful cases where a toddler accidentally pulls a trigger or a some such unintended act causes a single shot to go off. And someone is killed.
The impact is massive. Far too often I get to see it close up. The misery and suffering is beyond description.
“Who do you think feels worse? The parents of the dead girl who are here for closure or whatever kind of comfort they can get, or the parents of the boys who caused her death and who have to support their boys through this hell?” I asked QuirkyOlderWoman.
“I think both are too terrible to even think about. I don’t want to imagine what it’s like for either,” she responded.
I agree. As a mother I cannot begin to contemplate the pain of a child taken away too soon – in whatever way life pans out.
Tomorrow the courts will see the start of the trial of three houserobbers. They were prompted to start shooting when they were interrupted by the arrival of a mother who had come to fetch a child for school. One of the bullets struck her daughter. Little Emily Williams died at a petrol station down the road where her frantic mother stopped for help, but none arrived in time.
Today starts the unfolding of events that led to the Williams family leaving South Africa for England, and to a silent march conducted by Trinity School in memory of little Emily. The mothers of the three who caused the trauma will have to watch and hear and then make peace that their sons too are not coming home, at least not for a very long time.
The ripple effects are huge. And there’s so much pain. Yet nothing changes the fact that children are dead.


  1. I cannot even bear to think about the pain of losing a child... let aolone losing a child to such senseless and unnecessary violence.

  2. Tell me about it!!! I don't want to go anywhere near that experience - not even in my imagination. My little munchkin is my world - I cannot remotely think of an existence without that sunny little face somewhere in it. We are indeed blessed sweet Angel!

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