Patients tell of terror during hospital stand-off

2012-04-28 00:00

“MUMMY, mummy they’re shooting. I want to go home.” This was the heart-stopping, nightmare cellphone message that alerted the family of a nine-year-old boy that a hostage drama was unfolding at Westville Life Hospital yesterday morning.

Ismail and Rehana Mohammed, from Newcastle, were waiting to hear from Life Westville Hospital when they could take their son Ferhaan, a newly diagnosed diabetic patient, home.

The couple were staying with relatives at Sherwood when the call come through.

They rushed to the hospital only to find the entrance cordoned off, swarming with police and emergency services personnel, and the hostage taker still at large in the building.

“We were terrified not knowing what was going on inside,” said the boy’s mother. “All we could do was to try to stop our son from panicking. He had a cellphone so we could speak to him …”

Four hours later after a tense stand-off police snipers shot the man dead in the hospital’s kitchen area and rescued a staff member whom he had taken hostage.

Shocked by the hostage incident, Durban car sales executive Brandon Kistadu said his wife Cheryl was lucky to be alive.

Speaking in the hospital car park as his wife received trauma counselling, he said that she had been working in the hospital’s reception area when the gunman approached her and pulled her over the counter.

“I think he wanted to take her hostage, but she managed to escape. She literally ran for her life.”

Another patient, Mark House, hospitalised because of a depression and anxiety condition, said he woke up to hear screaming and the sound of gunshots coming from the passage outside his ward.

“The next thing I knew a young woman in kitchen uniform ran into my room crying and saying that the gunman was after her. I really thought my last minutes had come.”

A few seconds later a police team rushed into the room and guided the two victims to the safety of the car park.

Eyewitnesses said that when the gunman was cornered by police and security on the first floor near the kitchen and food preparation area, he opened fire, hitting a security guard, a nurse and a member of the catering staff in the legs and hip.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said SA Police Service hostage negotiators tried from 8 am until noon to persuade the hostage taker to release the hostage.

While this was unfolding, a contingent of police, including the National Intervention Unit (NIU) and Special Task Force, kept guard outside the main hospital entrance.

“An emergency head-count of hospital management established that one woman employee was unaccounted for,” said Naicker. “We correctly concluded that she was being held hostage.”

Naicker said police learnt that the hostage had been shot and that her condition was deteriorating.

“The only viable option was for the hostage rescue team to storm the kitchen to save her life. During the rescue the suspect was shot and fatally wounded.”

He said the highly traumatised woman, a member of the hospital’s kitchen staff, was recovering in hospital.

The drama began early yesterday morning when the 30-year-old man, believed to be a school teacher from Mariannhill, hijacked a taxi and ordered the driver to take him to Life Westville Hospital.

According to hospital staff, at about 7.40 am the gunman demanded to see a doctor or nurse.

He became impatient, firing shots randomly, causing terrified hospital staff, patients and visitors to scramble to safety in all directions.

Three people suffered slight injuries, believed to be from chips flying off concrete walls and floor as the bullets struck.

Leanne Nyiri, regional marketing manager, Life Healthcare KZN, said four people were injured during the incident.

“They are in a stable condition and are receiving trauma counselling, debriefing and support.”

• newsed@witness.co.za

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