‘My son, the hammer-murderer’: devastated mom pours out her heart

By admin
29 April 2016

She still remembers the exact words a colleague used when she phoned with the news that shattered her world: “Your child has lost his mind!”

Shortly after the shock call on 17 April last year, Jenet Müller (44) rushed the 15 km from her job in Evander to Secunda, where a hammer attack had just wreaked death and destruction. Her son Adam (then 23) had, little more than a month before, started work as store manager at the Secunda branch of the same construction company where his mother works. It’s alleged he attacked two of his colleagues, one of whom almost died after a blow to the head.

Outside in the street, three innocent passersby also fell prey to a rain of hammer blows. Lourens de Lange (23) was attacked as he walked with his pregnant fiancée Karin Louw (23) and their two-year-old daughter.

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He was so badly injured he was declared brain-dead in hospital the next day. Karin was struck twice on the head and her wounds required stitches. Miraculously, their child left was unharmed in her pushchair. Another pedestrian, Themba Shabalala (40), was beaten to death in nearby Roy Campbell Street.

Themba Shabalala was killed in the attack. PHOTO: The Ridge Times Themba Shabalala was killed in the attack. PHOTO: The Ridge Times

Adam – or Attie as everyone calls him – later appeared in Evander regional court charged with murder, five counts of attempted murder, and a charge of malicious damage to property. The case finally came to an end after a year on Tuesday 26 April, when the accused was declared unfit to stand trial. He is now in Ermelo prison awaiting admission to Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital where he will be treated in future.

Now Jenet can finally try to piece together what happened that fateful day. “I still can’t believe it,” Jenet says from the veranda of her neat family home in Evander, where she and her husband raised their brown-eyed son and his younger sister. His sister and Attie’s father prefer to remain anonymous.

“Attie was actually a sweet kid – loving – one just had to keep him calm,” his mother says, brushing back her flame-red hair with her hand. Her lips tremble slightly under a layer of bright pink lipstick as she tries to smile while fighting back the tears. “Attie was an active little boy, he was always strong willed. Hyperactive! He would walk round with food in his mouth all day and you had to remind him to just sit still and chew for a while.”

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When he wasn’t under the influence of drugs, he was friendly, polite, calm and well-meaning. Michelle Lindeque (32), Jenet and Attie’s employer, says he also got to know Attie as “an extremely good kid”.

Two psychiatrists evaluated him in prison, their reports meant to serve to determine whether he was fit to stand trial in court, the national Prosecuting Authority confirmed to YOU. But their findings were communicated to Jenet early this year: Her son was schizophrenic.

Attie’s problems started early on. PHOTO: Supplied Attie’s problems started early on. PHOTO: Supplied

The same diagnosis was made eight and a half months before the tragedy at the Evander State hospital, where Attie was admitted after threatening to kill his grandmother Dot Müller (65) and his parents during a temper tantrum. Jenet alleges after the diagnosis she begged to have Attie, who is not on medical aid, declared a state patient so he could be treated in a psychiatric hospital. But she says after a week he was sent home with some tablets.

After the attack, Jenet acquired reports from the hospital to supply to the police and the court. Some of the reports, which are in YOU’s possession, say just days before his discharge, he was “unstable”, “a danger to himself land those around him”, “and the voices in his head were telling him to do things – to leave his job and to kill his parents.”

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According to Dumisani Malamule, provincial spokesperson for the department of health,  there is no record of Jenet having requested Attie not be discharged and referred to a psychiatric institution. He did confirm Attie was admitted to hospital for 12 days in June 2014.

Apparently when he arrived he was psychotic and under the influence of drugs. Various doctors treated him and one of them diagnosed him with bipolar disorder before he was discharged on 25 June. Dumisani says after that Attie was treated as an outpatient and had several follow-up appointments. In fact, on the day of the killings he was supposed to visit the hospital again but never showed up.

Attie’s problems started at a young age. In Grade 9 he was caught smoking dagga near school and a year later, after a fight at school, he was expelled. His parents took him to Johannesburg for treatment, but they were in for a bigger shock. “We found out he’d used just about every drug under the sun behind our backs, including heroin,” Jenet says. “I still recall asking him: 'How? Where? When?’ I was shocked because we always had strict rules.”

Attie spent almost his entire Grade 11 year in a rehab centre in Ellisras. It initially appeared the long-term rehabilitation had been successful, but once he was back in his hometown he started bartered everything from his clothes to his beloved guitar for drugs.

By the time he was due to write matric, his parents were at breaking point. Attie was on his way to an exam when he told his father God had told him he didn’t need matric – and he flatly refused to write anymore exams.

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On the same day he stole his father’s motorbike from their property – together with the keys and documentation in the house. That was the last straw. Although they couldn’t prove Attie was responsible, his parents kicked him out of the house. He then moved in with Dot in a cottage on the same plot. After his discharge from the Evander hospital in June 2014, she tried to make sure he took his medication regularly and went for counselling with a clergyman every week.

When it looked as if his condition was improving and Attie said he wanted to work, Jenet helped him get a job at the Lynco Construction Company, where she works in the finance department.

“We found out he’d used just about every drug under the sun behind our backs, including heroin,” Jenet says. “We found out he’d used just about every drug under the sun behind our backs, including heroin,” Jenet says. PHOTO: Supplied

On the morning of the murders, in a fit of rage Attie threw ice-cold water over her head, Dot says. She put on dry clothes then took him to work. He went to the local shop that morning, they heard later, and is believed to have bought drugs, she adds.

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After that he accosted two of his colleagues, William Sikhotla (30) and Pottie Potgieter (53). William’s arm was injured and Pottie was struck on the head. At the nearby Secunda Florists, employees locked the door just in time, but a glass door was damaged during the rampage. Then random pedestrians were attacked. It appears Lourens, Karin and Themba were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Karin says she still has nightmares about it. “I just can’t forget it.”

During his rampage people attacked Attie with picks and spades and his jawbone was broken. Someone went to fetch a weapon. “They almost shot him dead,” Jenet says. By the time she arrived at the scene he was calm and confused. His first words to her were: “What happened?” But he would tell his mother later God had told him if he didn’t kill those people then, he was a coward.

The window of Secunda Bloemiste was cracked during Attie's rampage. People fought him back picks and spades and his jawbone was broken. PHOTO: The Ridge Time The window of Secunda Bloemiste was cracked during Attie's rampage. People fought him back picks and spades and his jawbone was broken. PHOTO: The Ridge Time

Jenet takes comfort in the fact some of the families of the victims have already told her they don’t blame her. She’s thankful for the support of her employers, Michelle and her husband Michael. Jenet asked Dot the other day: “How far can you wind back the clock?” a question she answers herself when she says: “You can’t. All I can say to other parents is you must be very involved. Keep a careful watch.”

And although she realises her son is a danger to himself and society, she still stands by him. “I will only find closure when I know he’s getting the help he needs.”

WHAT IS SCHIZOPHRENIA?

Dr Melinda Lombard, a Pretoria psychiatrist, says most schizophrenics can be treated successfully and lead relatively functional lives. “Drugs can make anyone violent; you don’t have to be schizophrenic.”

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, schizophrenia is a multiple personality disorder which is diagnosed in one in every hundred people. Schizophrenics experience symptoms which make it difficult to know what’s real and what isn’t. Symptoms include hearing voices,  paranoia and hallucinations. But the risk of them becoming violent is pretty low. “Drugs such as dagga can cause schizophrenia to develop in those who are already biologically vulnerable to the disorder, but that won’t be the main cause,” Melinda says.

Melinda stresses Attie Müller’s case, where he experienced hallucinations telling him what to do, is extremely unusual, even in schizophrenics.

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