She will never call me 'mommy' – mother of murdered 6-month-old baby

2018-06-18 08:54

Doting mother Cindy Woodward's home is filled with photos of her baby girl – sitting on the beach in a tiny Minnie Mouse bikini, sleeping in the crook of her mom's neck and laughing while wearing comically oversized sunglasses.

But little Zahnia Woodward will forever be 6 months old. The infant was murdered by a single bullet to the head fired by alleged gangsters.

She was sitting on her father's lap in a park in Ocean View, about 40km from Cape Town, when she was caught in what is believed to have been gang crossfire while her mother was on her way home from work.


Zahnia's mother, Cindy Woodward. (Aljoscha Kohlstock, News24)

Sunday, June 17, would have been her second birthday. A cake, little cupcakes bearing her face and balloons decorated the grassy patch where Zahnia had sat and played with her dad, and where she was later shot.

Six people alleged to have been involved in Zahnia's murder – Christopher September, Larry Johnson, Taswill Kriel, Morné May, Simaney Kido and Mirriam Johnson – will go on trial in the Western Cape High Court on August 6.

Read: Trial date set for 6 accused of murdering Cape Town infant

All of the accused are known to Woodward and her fiancé Bradley Robyn. They grew up together.

Woodward says she is ready for a fight for justice for her baby, who died before she had even called her "mommy".

Happiest baby

The curly-haired infant was Woodward's first, born after 20 hours of labour.

"She was the happiest baby ever," Woodward says from her Gemini Way home.

"She was 6 months and 13 days old when they shot her."

Zahnia was killed on December 30, 2016.

The bullet hit Zahnia in the head as her dad bent to pick up the dummy she had just spat out.

That morning, Woodward had waved goodbye to Zahnia when her dad, Robyn, had come to fetch her as her mother had to work.

At about 16:45 that day, she messaged Robyn and asked what their baby was doing. In response, he sent her a photo of Zahnia, smiling happily in her bouncy chair.


The last photo taken of Zahnia, less than an hour before she was shot. (Supplied)

She was shot less than an hour later.

Robyn was hit in the thigh, but still managed to drive his daughter to hospital.

Woodward recalled that she had been in a taxi when another commuter said bullets were flying in Ocean View.

When she disembarked at her stop near the park, she saw locals running from where the shooting had taken place.

"The first thing I thought was that I need to get my child," Woodward said.

'Mommy's here'

Her daughter's godfather had been at the scene and told her Zahnia had been shot.

"My legs gave in and I just collapsed in the road. The groceries [I had been carrying] were just lying there."

After a desperate search for transport to False Bay Hospital, a frustrated Woodward decided she couldn't wait for help.

"My mommy and I decided to walk. I don't know when I thought I was going to get there, but all I wanted was Zahnia. I would do anything just to get to her."

Along the way, a resident picked them up, but Woodward asked to be taken to the police station because the woman "drove too slowly".

At the hospital, she had to be restrained as she tried to physically fight her way into the emergency room.

"I eventually sat in front of those doors, flat on the ground. I told them I am not going anywhere until I see my daughter."

Once she had "calmed down" she was allowed into the room, where she saw Zahnia lying on a hospital bed, her head covered in bandage.

WATCH:

"Instinctively I wanted to pick her up. She had to be in my arms, not lying on a big hospital bed surrounded by strange people. I lost it again and they put me out."

She was eventually allowed back in.

"I asked if I could touch her and I rubbed her leg. I told her: 'Mommy's here.'"

Doctors told her Zahnia's heart was beating on its own and Woodward recalls thinking her child would be okay.

"She was still alive. For five hours she clutched on to life."

Letting go

Zahnia was transferred to Red Cross Children's Hospital.

"I lay on the ambulance floor and sang to her. I said we were going to go to McDonald's and we were going to get cones because she liked ice cream.

"Afterwards, I told her: 'Zahnia, don't fight anymore baby'. Because it hit me – my child was shot through her head."

Woodward says she came to the realisation that while Zahnia's heart was beating, she remained unresponsive.

"I told her: 'Don't hold on for mommy. I just want you to know that mommy loves you, daddy loves you and it's fine – if you want to go, let go, baby. Mommy's not going to be sad.  It's okay, you can go.' And then she flatlined."

Woodward said at that moment they had pulled up at Red Cross and Zahnia was rushed inside.

A paramedic later came and confirmed her child had died.


Zahnia's remains fit into a tiny box. (Aljoscha Kohlstock, News24)

"I didn't cry. I said 'okay'. I asked to see her. All these wires and machines were attached to her. I asked them to take all of that off."

She asked for them to hand Zahnia to her.

"I literally sat there with my dead child for almost an hour until they told me to give her back. I said I wasn't going to. A doctor came and explained to me that her body was getting cold and would become stiff. She would stay in that position and they would have to break her bones if I was going to keep holding on to her. I told them to take her, because I didn't want to give her to them."

Zahnia was put in a body bag and Woodward lay next to her for hours.

"I left but started fighting in the parking because I didn't want to get in the car. I felt I was leaving her. A mommy is not supposed to leave her child."

She went home in the early hours of that morning but later returned after asking to see her daughter again.

Unreal

"They took her out of the freezer and put her on the bed. They opened her and her face was so blue. The bandages...I just looked at her and cried. I just wanted her to know I was there. I didn't leave her. I went home but I came back. I was here."

She returned the next day, travelling almost 40km to be with Zahnia for five minutes.

On the third day she officially identified her baby's body.

"The funeral was so hard. I realised it was just her body in the coffin. It felt unreal to have her back home, but like that. She didn't leave like that. It just didn't feel right that she came back into the house the way she did."

Woodward removes blood-stained clothes from a box of keepsakes. The slippers Zahnia had been wearing that day and the dummy she had spat out are packed inside. A flower that was attached to the dress Zahnia was baptised and later cremated in also forms part of the young mother's collection.

The bedroom she shared with her baby has a nautical theme – seashells hang from the ceiling and Zahnia's tiny Minnie Mouse bikini is draped over a frame that holds photos of the laughing infant.


Zahnia Woodward was six month old when she was murdered, killed by a single bullet to the head. (Aljoscha Kohlstock, News24)

Beach baby

"I was 19 when I had her and I had to adapt to motherhood. But I was lucky – I had such a pleasant child," Woodward says proudly.

"She loved water. She was a beach baby, but her mommy couldn't even swim," she laughs.

On her first birthday, Woodward released one pink balloon at Soetwater – Zahnia's favourite place.

Zahnia's ashes are stored in a little box resembling a treasure chest, complete with a braided rope and a ship's wheel.

The baby's remains were given to her mother in an oversized bag, which she wraps tightly to fit into the tiny box.

"I can't cut the plastic, even though it's unnecessarily big. That one grain of ash that I may lose was a part of my baby."

Woodward's body is decorated with six tattoos, including a portrait of Zahnia's laughing face, the print of her heartbeat just before she died, a poem about acceptance and her tiny footprint.

"I had one done when she was gone for one month, then four months, then six months. Every time the pain hits, I go for a tattoo. It doesn't take away the pain, but I feel it. I want to feel it physically, not emotionally."


A tattoo of Zahnia's laughing face on Cindy'Woodward's forearm. (Aljoscha Kohlstock, News24)

Tears

Facing her baby's alleged killers in August will be difficult, Woodward admits.

She attends every court appearance, staring at the accused from the gallery and at times wiping away tears.

Woodward says she has come a long way since having to be restrained from physically attacking them in the dock.

"I just want [the trial] to be over and done with. It feels like they're being protected from me, but my child couldn't be protected from them."

Should they be convicted, a life sentence would still not be good enough.

"You took a whole life away from me and you get 25 years? You don't deserve it – it's nothing compared to what you took.

"You took birthdays, you took Christmases, you took first days of school, you took graduations – you took all of that away from me.

[If convicted], they will be out of prison when they're in their 50s. They can still walk, go out, live. They will still be able to be parents. I can't because they took my child away from me."

She will never hear her child call her mommy, Woodward says.

At the time of Zahnia's murder, she was "slowly but surely" only starting to crawl.


A single pink balloon was released at Soetwater on Zahnia's first birthday. (Supplied)

Memorial

"Just when I start to accept that she's gone – she's happy and in heaven – I remember that my child was shot. She was murdered. That tiny baby, six months old, had to go through that pain, all by herself."

A memorial plaque bearing the murdered baby's name and a picture of a little girl sitting on Jesus' lap has been installed at the park where Zahnia was killed.

On Sunday, Woodward lay fresh flowers at the spot where a gunshot took her baby's life.

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