A parent’s worst nightmare
Missing children: the pain never ceases
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.
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