“The emotions were crazy. I wouldn’t want anyone to ever go through those emotions”
These were the words from a tired but relieved close friend of the De Jager’s family in Vanderbijlpark following an almost 24-hour search for kidnapped 6-year-old Amy-Leigh de Jager.
Shawn Delport, who owns a popular restaurant in the town told News24 on Tuesday morning that he was preparing for his day on Monday when he suddenly received a distraught and distressed call from Amy-Leigh’s mother, Angeline just before 08:00.
He said he then dropped everything and mobilised for an immediate search of the girl.
Young Amy-Leigh, who is in Grade R at Laerskool Kollegepark, was snatched by four men from her mother outside her school at around 07:40 on Monday. The kidnappers fled the scene in a white Toyota Fortuner.
Delport said friends, locals and family members had vowed to not sleep a wink as the search for the girl went on.
He said after a day of searching by the police, the Vaal Response Unit and other locals for the missing girl, it was tears of joy when she was eventually reunited with her parents in the early hours of Tuesday.
“So many people tried to help, so much support and that’s one thing we had promised. We promised that we will never stop looking for Amy-Leigh,” Delport said as he broke down into tears.
He said when the little girl was found after being dropped at The Shakespeare Hotel Inn, it was heartwarming to see how she ran into her parents arms.
The hours of distress and uncertainty were not an easy road, Vaal Response Unit director Hannes van Zyl said.
He said money market vouchers, bitcoin requests were some of the bogus requests from chancers who tried capitalising on the kidnapping, pretending to be the perpetrators seeking ransom money.
While many tried to fleece the family, Van Zyl said no ransom was issued, eventually resulting to the actual perpetrators releasing the girl.
“We had a very good network inside the (Joint Operating Centre). Every bit of information received was kept in confidence and we established there was a lot of chancers but we are blessed to say they were unsuccessful in their defiance toward the family.
“We prevented them from being successful and capitalising on something as crucial as a kidnapping of a very young child.”
Van Zyl said after the incident, local hostage crisis and negotiating standby teams were called and interviewed Amy-Leigh’s family before they were moved to the police station.
He added that he was happy with how the community united, just like it did on 1 February when it was hit with the Hoërskool Driehoek tragedy.
Van Zyl said while they had prepared themselves for the worst, when the girl was brought in safe and sound, tears rolled down freely from his eyes.
“I had mixed emotions of anger in the morning (Monday), boiled down to more anger toward the afternoon because it was like we were hitting a brick wall. I made a promise we will not sleep until we bring the perpetrators to justice.
“I’ve managed to live up to one side of my promise, in making sure the child was there (found). We will as the community in conjunction with all other role players ensure whatever we need to do to assist the SAPS to bring the perpetrators to justice, we will utilise our resources to make sure that something like this will not be easy to facilitate in Vanderbijlpark,” van Zyl said.
He said the response unit, with the assistance of the police deserved credit for working toward the safe return of the girl.
Using their private resources, locals flocked the station and search areas donating water, food and other materials, he said.
Van Zyl added that he hoped the unity in the town would show neighbouring cities that crime could be combated if residents worked together holistically.
“We worked tirelessly until about 02:30 in the morning when the young child was then released without any ransom demand being paid.”
“We are very blessed to have had a wonderful ending to a very rough start yesterday morning. We didn’t anticipate it to go the way it ended,” van Zyl said.
While Amy-Leigh is now in the care of his parents, Van Zyl and Delport said it was not the end of the road. They said the search for the kidnappers continues.
The little girl’s father, Wynand, told News24 that he was not ready to speak about the incident.