A par­ent’s worst night­mare

Miss­ing chil­dren: the pain never ceases

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - WARDA MEYER

Par­ents of miss­ing chil­dren live the daily night­mare of not know­ing whether their child is safe – or even alive. And Christ­mas is a painful re­minder, as there is a va­cant spot at the lunch ta­ble and one less present un­der the tree.

Ev­ery year, about 200 chil­dren go miss­ing in the Western Cape. Ac­cord­ing to the po­lice, 191 chil­dren have been re­ported miss­ing this year.

Days turn into months, and some­times years, but that win­dow of hope re­mains open.

Week­end Ar­gus spoke to a group of par­ents of miss­ing chil­dren at a preChrist­mas re­mem­brance lunch in Mitchells Plain re­cently, where they told their sto­ries.

Keet said Baden was 12 years old when he dis­ap­peared from a game shop in Len­tegeur.

He was not liv­ing with his par­ents but stayed with a pas­tor in Len­tegeur.

“I’ve never given up hope. Even af­ter all these years. This type of thing tears fam­i­lies apart… That’s what hap­pened to mine.”

Keet said he still be­lieved he would find out what hap­pened to his son.

“Dead or alive, we need to know what hap­pened that day.”

Ac­cord­ing to Keet, although many par­ents go through the trauma of search­ing for their chil­dren, af­ter a while when the trail runs cold and po­lice give up their search, they are sad­dled with the pain and sad­ness of not know­ing what hap­pened.

Anas­ta­sia was seven at the time and was be­lieved to have been ab­ducted by a man driv­ing a white, box-shaped Toy­ota Corolla.

“The man called her at a park where she was play­ing near her home in Westridge. The other chil­dren who were play­ing with her told us Anas­ta­sia got into the car and the man drove off with her.”

Anas­ta­sia has dark brown eyes and black hair, which was long at the time of her dis­ap­pear­ance.

Ac­cord­ing to Lu­cas, sev­eral other chil­dren went miss­ing be­fore her daugh­ter van­ished, and sev­eral more af­ter her dis­ap­pear­ance, but be­cause no body has been found, they be­lieve she is alive and well.

“Her body was never found and we have to be­lieve that she will be com­ing home one day. I will never stop be­liev­ing in the pos­si­bil­ity that she will walk through my door. No mat­ter what, I can only hope she has had a good life up till now.”

Lu­cas said Anas­ta­sia would have cel­e­brated her 21st birth­day on Novem­ber 9.

“She was taken only days af­ter her sev­enth birth­day. Even af­ter all this time, we still miss her, es­pe­cially on her birth­day; it just opens old wounds, bring­ing the pain and agony of our loss to the fore­front.”

Lu­cas said she had been blessed with three daugh­ters and Anas­ta­sia was her mid­dle child.

“My youngest daugh­ter was four at the time and she can­not even re­mem­ber her sis­ter.”

Lu­cas said the po­lice tried their best, fol­low­ing up any and ev­ery lead, but they could not find her lit­tle girl.

“In my heart of hearts, I be­lieve she was sold to a fam­ily who did not have any chil­dren.”

He dis­ap­peared on Christ­mas Eve in 1999 at the age of 13.

“It still feels like yes­ter­day when he was help­ing me clean the house. We were get­ting ready for Christ­mas. My son wanted to go out­side and I asked him to clean the car­pet. Now all I can re­mem­ber is his last words to me: “I’ll come now-now mom.”

Now­ellen, how­ever, was never seen again.

“The next few days and months were the worst of my life – filled with po­lice, ques­tions and sus­pi­cions.

“I look back and I think about it. I re­ally don’t know how this could have hap­pened. I guess my faith has got me through it.”

Rayner com­plained that the po­lice had not kept in con­tact with the fam­ily over the years.

She said she would ap­pre­ci­ate it if they would at least look at the docket ev­ery now and then.

“He stayed at the Athlone School for the Blind and came home for the Easter week­end when he went miss­ing,” she said.

Amer­ica said her son was on his way to the cor­ner shop, not far from their home in New Wood­lands, when he dis­ap­peared.

“He wanted to go buy some­thing from the shop and waited for the shops to open af­ter Mosque on a Fri­day af­ter­noon. He was never seen again and, af­ter all these years, we still do not know what hap­pened to him. If he was hurt… if he’s okay.”

Like all the other fam­i­lies, Amer­ica said they drew their strength from God.

“As a par­ent you never get over this,” she said.

Un­like the other par­ents who can hope for the safe re­turn of their chil- dren, she knows what tran­spired af­ter her daugh­ter was taken.

Veronique’s charred body was found, burnt be­yond recog­ni­tion, in the bush in Zeeko­evlei.

A Grade 2 pupil at Steen­berg Pri­mary School, Veronique, went miss­ing in Squaw Av­enue, while walk­ing home alone.

“She was last seen by neigh­bour­hood chil­dren sit­ting on the back of a bi­cy­cle with a man and wav­ing as they rode down Sym­phony Av­enue. The friends did not recog­nise the man she was with.”

Muller said los­ing a child has to be a par­ent’s worst pain but it is par­tic­u­larly hard to make sense of a child be­ing mur­dered. Miss­ing chil­dren and child mur­der cases were a sober­ing re­minder that there are peo­ple out there who will do the un­think­able.

Muller said they had found Veronique’s school bag in the front gar­den.

“Her bag was just ly­ing there and no­body could tell me where she was.”

Muller said she im­me­di­ately went look­ing for her daugh­ter.

“When I didn’t find her, I went to the po­lice to re­port her miss­ing. The next day, the po­lice told the fam­ily the body of a girl had been found near Zeeko­evlei, but they could not con­firm that it was Veronique.

“She went miss­ing on Septem­ber 19, and on Veronique’s eighth birth­day, Septem­ber 27, we re­ceived the news that the DNA tests had re­vealed the body was in­deed hers.”

She said the fam­ily had re­mained hope­ful that Veronique would be found un­harmed up un­til the very last minute but it was not meant to be.

“She was our an­gel and we miss her ter­ri­bly. Her mem­ory will al­ways live on in our house and in our hearts.”

Muller said af­ter all these years, no ar­rests had been made in her daugh­ter’s case.

“The po­lice are no longer do­ing any­thing to help us. I con­tinue to go to the po­lice, es­pe­cially on her birth­day, to check on the case but they al­ways tell me they have no leads and are still wait­ing for DNA test re­sults.”

Matthew, who was nine when he dis­ap­peared on March 24, was play­ing in front of his home in Del­heim Cres­cent, Westridge.

Ohls­son and her hus­band founded Con­cerned Par­ents for Miss­ing Chil­dren, an or­gan­i­sa­tion which helps par­ents with find­ing their miss­ing chil­dren.

Ohls­son said 14 years af­ter Matthew’s dis­ap­pear­ance, she still has no idea what hap­pened to him.

“He would be 23 years old now. A grown man.”

She said the only way she man­aged to cope was through hope and telling her­self that her son was still alive.

“Not know­ing what hap­pened is worse than death. The pain does not go away; it never fades. It stays with you for­ever but life can go on,” she said.

Ohls­son, who works with the fam­i­lies of miss­ing and abused chil­dren, said par­ents needed to be vig­i­lant and know where their chil­dren were at all times.

Over the past 12 years, Con­cerned Par­ents for Miss­ing Chil­dren have re­united more than 190 chil­dren with their par­ents and helped sev­eral other chil­dren with drug-re­lated prob­lems.

Mean­while, The Pink Ladies, who work with the po­lice on miss­ing child cases, said their re­cov­ery suc­cess rate from March to Oc­to­ber had been 98 per­cent.

Spokes­woman Dessie Rech­ner said the sit­u­a­tion had im­proved since the or­gan­i­sa­tion started in 2007.

She said it was wor­ry­ing that 78 per­cent of miss­ing chil­dren be­tween the ages of 10 and 17, through­out the coun­try, proved to be run­aways.

“In these cases crime and drugs play a ma­jor role.”

Com­mu­nity Safety MEC Dan Plato ex­pressed con­cern that dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son, adult drink­ing and par­ty­ing left many chil­dren at risk.

He said 144 sex-re­lated crimes, in­clud­ing rape, had been re­ported in the Western Cape be­tween De­cem­ber 6 and 12, of which 80 per­cent had been re­ported in the City of Cape Town.

“Of these cases, 60 in­volved chil­dren un­der the age of 15 years, with the youngest be­ing two years old,” Plato added.

The MEC warned par­ents not to ne­glect their chil­dren dur­ing the hol­i­days and to en­sure their lit­tle ones were taken care of and never left alone, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble.

“It starts out as a miss­ing per­son case but it could end in sex­ual crimes or, even worse, mur­der. These crim­i­nals do not worry if their vic­tims are two or 82.

“En­sure your chil­dren are safe. Do not go out drink­ing and par­ty­ing, leav­ing them alone at home,” he warned.

Plato said while the po­lice had had suc­cess in miss­ing child cases, many par­ents were left not know­ing what had hap­pened to their chil­dren.

“I think it is im­por­tant that we keep on relook­ing at these cold cases,” he said.

warda.meyer@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: COURT­NEY AFRICA

VAN­ISHED: Joanie Lu­cas takes a pic­ture of Kyle Lu­cas and Storm Phi­lande, as they pose next to a pic­ture of her miss­ing daugh­ter, Anas­ta­sia Lu­cas.

Nokhango Moya, 15

Michelle Plaatjies, 16

Nok­wa­lene Gontsana, 17

Matthew Ohls­son, 9

Marcellino Bru­in­tjies, 9

Kayla Ningo, 10

Labo­hang Nken­tle, 13

Florentia Lan­gen­hoven, 5

Henry Plaatjies, 13

De­van­dre Stan­ley, 4 months

Lu­lamela Mat­sheba, 3

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