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South African mother's horror: Hijackers steal car, drag son away

HomicideCrimeSouth AfricaLaw Enforcement
South African residents threaten mob justice after 4-year-old boy is dragged to death in horrific hijacking
Mother describes anguish, trying to free her son entangled in seat belt as hijackers sped off with her car

South African playwright Athol Fugard wrote a stark novel about a car hijacker who steals a car that has a baby in the back seat and has to face the problem of taking care of the child.

Fugard’s fiction became horrifying reality this past weekend.

Chantel Morris was preparing to take her two children to a McDonald's on Saturday night when two armed hijackers confronted them outside her grandmother's house as she was buckling 4-year-old Taegrin into the back seat of her white VW Citi Golf.

As her 8-year-old daughter, Erin, managed to clamber out of the car, Morris tried to bargain with the hijackers.

"I said to them: 'Take everything but just let me take my child,'" Morris told eNCA media. She tried to pull Taegrin from the car, but the seat belt jammed and his foot became tangled in it.

"I had him in my hands and I tried to pull him up and I said to them, 'Please, my child is stuck. Let me take him out, just let me take him out.'

"And they drove off with speed and they just basically ripped him from my arms," she told eNCA. "My child fell on the ground with his hands out, saying 'Mommy, please Mommy, help me, help me.'"

As Morris and Erin watched in horror, the boy was dragged down the street.

“I ran after the car from my granny’s house … but I couldn’t save my son. I couldn’t,” Morris said.

The car was found abandoned in Boksburg, more than five miles away from the grandmother's house in Reiger Park neighborhood east of Johannesburg.

Taegrin’s battered body was next to the car.

South Africa has a high rate of violent crime, with murder, attempted murder, sex crimes, kidnapping and violent robberies on the increase, according to Africa Check, a fact-checking organization.

Local newspaper Beeld reported Tuesday that Morris recognized one of the hijackers as a local beggar to whom her sister-in-law had given food and clothing in the past.

Taegrin’s aunt, Debbie Boards, told News 24 that the family frequently gave one of the hijackers hot food.

Police were searching for two suspects. They also questioned another man who wasn’t a suspect, according the police.

On Monday, residents protested at the Reiger Park police station demanding justice and threatening to find and kill the hijackers themselves if police failed to arrest them.

A text message was being sent around the neighborhood urging residents to take the law into their own hands, hunt the killers down and slay them.

Diane De Gama, a resident and friend of the Morris family, told The Star newspaper that drugs and gangs were a huge problem in the area. Police have offered a reward equivalent to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the hijackers.

Gauteng province Premier David Makhura told journalists the killers were likely on drugs and called for swift action by police to apprehend them.

“This act was heartless. Dragging a small boy for kilometers shows they could have been under the influence of drugs, as we know the community has a drug problem,” Makhura said.

Taegrin's father, Elwin Morris, told Eye Witness News: "I feel like killing those people. God must help the police to catch them first before I do.”

Fugard’s novel, "Tsotsi," a slang term for gangster, was made into a movie that won a 2006 Oscar for best foreign language film. The story, centered on the theme of redemption, ends with the gangster raising his hands, surrounded by police, and surrendering the baby.

Morris called on the hijackers to give themselves up, weeping in an interview with eNCA news.

“All I want to say to them is, ‘Whatever you tried was fruitless. I don’t have a child today. I have to make peace with that. But please, hand yourselves over,'” she pleaded.

Follow news out of Africa on Twitter at @robyndixon.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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