'I hugged him': Cape Town nurse describes how she calmed gunman after fatal hospital shooting

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Sr Diane Seale stands with part of the team that supported her. Back Row: Mr Beven Mashedi - Facilities Manager (left); Sr Diane Seale - Operational Manager (Centre), Professor Roger Dickerson - Head of Emergency Centre (Right); Front Row: Ms Vanessa van Wyk - Operational Manager, Medical Ward; Ms Salama Basardien - Nursing Deputy; Ms Ohlen Ohlson - Operational Manager, Surgical Ward.
Sr Diane Seale stands with part of the team that supported her. Back Row: Mr Beven Mashedi - Facilities Manager (left); Sr Diane Seale - Operational Manager (Centre), Professor Roger Dickerson - Head of Emergency Centre (Right); Front Row: Ms Vanessa van Wyk - Operational Manager, Medical Ward; Ms Salama Basardien - Nursing Deputy; Ms Ohlen Ohlson - Operational Manager, Surgical Ward.
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  • Sister Diane Seale recalls isolating and calming a gunman at New Somerset Hospital in Cape Town over the weekend.
  • The shooter allegedly stole a police officer's gun and opened fire, killing three people.
  • Among the dead was the police officer who had been disarmed.

Sister Diane Seale was doing her routine handover at New Somerset Hospital on Saturday night when she received a distress call from a colleague.

But she didn't expect what she encountered on the hospital's second floor when she responded to the call.

"As I entered the second floor, I noticed a body on the floor in the corridor, but my eye caught the patient with the gun in his hand. I proceeded to walk straight to him [and] made eye contact. I walked towards him and I hugged him. I escorted him into the cubicle. He told me to close the door," she said.

Seale said this afforded staff to attend to the police officer who had been shot.

"I felt I could calm him down a bit. Although I had noted two patients had been shot and were deceased, there were still two patients that were alive that I needed to save. I kept him seated, standing in front of him, so that these patients were kept out of harm's way."

One of the three victims of the shooting was a police officer who was stationed at the Sea Point police station, 32-year-old Constable Donay Phillips. Phillips was guarding a man at the hospital on Saturday night. He had gone to investigate a commotion in another ward when he was disarmed and shot in the head.

The shooter, who has since been identified as former police officer Jean-Paul Malgas, 39, from Vredenberg, allegedly fired several shots. Two patients were also killed.

READ | Ex-cop who allegedly killed 3 in Cape Town hospital shooting is 'suicidal' - lawyer

Seale recalls calmly speaking to the shooter and begging him to put down the gun.

She said:

I dealt with him as a person. I wasn't focused on what he had done or might still do. I asked him: 'What happened?' I reached out and touched him, and he allowed me to. This gave me confidence and I knew that he trusted me. He looked at me while my hands were still on his shoulders and said: 'You are brave, you are the only one that has come in here.'


During their exchange, the police's tactical unit had arrived and was armed and ready outside the cubicle doors.

"I lifted his face and said, 'Do you see this uniform? I am here to save life and limb.' Eventually he agreed for me to sedate him. Through it all, I sat with him, stroking his forehead until he was finally sedated. At this point I could call the tactical team to subdue him. When I walked out, everyone was there. My team was there and safe. This gave me that encouragement I needed to push on," Seale said.

Immediately after the ordeal, Seale engaged with her team and started debriefing the nurses and patients.

ALSO READ | Cape Town hospital shooting: Concerns over safety at public hospitals

Metropolitan counselling services, South African Red Cross Society's psychosocial support team and the Western Cape Health and Wellness team were on-site to offer support.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said: "The story of Sister Seale is one of leadership, bravery, compassion, teamwork and true humanity. Her unwavering focus and attention on the suspected shooter ensured that countless lives were spared. She and her entire team exemplify the Western Cape government's values of being caring, competent and responsive; and they are an example to us all."

Health and Wellness MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said: "Each and every healthcare worker, most importantly our nurses, the very individuals we are honouring on Nurses Day, have time and time again, illustrated their resilience, dedication and fearlessness in saving the lives of our patients and risking their own."

"Their actions are perfectly illustrated by the heroic deed of Sister Seale and each and every healthcare worker at New Somerset Hospital, without hesitation, full of difficulties and challenges they themselves were faced with, safeguarded the lives of all the other patients at the facility."

International Nurses Day will be celebrated on Thursday, 12 May.




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