Woman speaks on the loss of her son after husband shoots him dead: “I always wanted to be a mom”

Nandia. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Nandia. (PHOTO: Supplied)

It was his best friend’s birthday and there were treats galore and even a little lamb to pet and play with. Seven-year-old Dylan Neethling was in his element as he joined in the festivities in the shadow of Paarl Mountain.

No one could have predicted that magical spring morning in the Salem Biblical Garden near Paarl in the Western Cape would mark the start of the little boy’s final day.

In the early hours of the following morning he was shot dead in his bedroom. And the person who took his life was the man he saw as his protector – his father, Johann Neethling (69).

After pulling the trigger Johann called the police to report a shooting before lying down on the bed beside his son’s body and shooting himself. His estranged wife, Nandia (38), wipes away tears with the back of her hand – she’s barely stopped crying since receiving the terrible news that her only child would never be coming back to her.

Then she manages a brave smile. “You can’t just cry constantly,” says Nandia, who’s talking to us in her brother Rudi Visser’s flat in Bellville, Cape Town.

Although the pain of her loss is still so raw, she’s agreed to speak to YOU in the hope that some good can come from this senseless tragedy. “If I can help only one person, it’ll be enough.  I want to warn parents who are in the midst of a divorce:  make sure there are no weapons in the house.”

It’s the day after Dylan’s funeral. His friends at PanoramaPrimary School showed up dressed as superheroes, while mourners said farewell outside the church clutching brightly coloured balloons.

“There was a candle in church with a picture of his face on it,” she says. “Those eyes . . . It felt as if he was looking at me the whole time.” Nandia believes Johann, who was a  microbiologist  and  did consulting work from home,  had  planned the murder-suicide  to  precede  the  signing  of  the  divorce papers the following week.

“What goes through a father’s mind?” she says.“Dylan had his whole life ahead of him.  Johann couldn’t even look him in the face. “He shot Dylan in the back of the head.

At 2.30pm that Saturday afternoon – a few hours after the children’s  party  –  Nandia  dropped Dylan off at the Panorama  home  she’d  lived  in  during her eight-year marriage to Johann.

After the couple separated earlier this year, their lawyers had agreed Dylan would stay with Johann every second weekend  and  would  visit  him  every  Thursday. 

“That  day  I’d  bought  him  a  khaki  T-shirt, underwear and a packet of chips – he loved the sweet chilli flavour and called them ‘hot chips’.

“When we stopped at the house he asked me if I’d keep the T-shirt and underwear with me – he didn’t want to take them, he said. Then he gave me a hug and went inside.” After driving away she noticed Dylan had also left his chips in the car.

“He left his special things for me,” she says tearfully. On Sunday morning her phone rang. It was the police – and what they told her would shatter her life in an instant. “There are all these questions. Why my child? You see this kind of thing in movies but you don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you.”

Johann wanted to give Nandia heartache for the rest of her days, Rudi says.

“Dylan was a gem and Nandia’s whole life revolved around him.”Nandia decided to have Dylan cremated wearing his new khaki T-shirt and the green pants he often wore to church. “I put the elf my mom had given him for Christmas  next  to  his  shoulder,  rubbed some lip balm on his lips and gelled his hair.

“He had a smile on his face.” This is how she wants to remember him.

Nandia  says  she’d  tried  to  protect  Dylan from the hostility that had developedbetween his mom and dad. A few days after she left Johann in July he laid charges of assault against her and her parents, Gerda and Kobus Visser, and got a restraining order against her.

Nandia  countered  by  telling  police  about the weapons in his house.

“I was specific about where he kept the gun and told them it wasn’t locked away. But he lied to the police and told them it was a pellet gun. In the end, he used that same gun to shoot my child.”

She denies that there’d ever been an assault incident and claims Johann’s statement was based on lies. Nevertheless, the interdict against her was granted, prohibiting her from setting foot on the Panorama property.

Nandia  and  Johann  met  through Rudi, who works in the food industry, and despite their 31-year  age  gap  there  was an instant connection. They dated for about a year before their wedding in 2011 and Nandia had Dylan not long afterwards.

“I’d always wanted to be mom,” she says. “Dylan really was my bundle of joy.” The first signs  of  Johann’s  strange  behaviour surfaced before her son was born.

“Johann sulked for about two months when he found out I was pregnant. He didn’t want me to buy  any  baby  clothes. When he found out it was a  boy  things  improved a bit.”

But  the  marriage had deteriorated and derailed over the past two years.

“He  wanted  to  control  me,”  she  says.  “He  put  up  cameras all over the house  so  he  could  watch  me  from  his  stud y .”

Johann didn’t want Nandia to work, so she sold cosmetics part-time.  Eventually  she  and  Dylan  moved out and went to live with family in Bellville.

“There  was  no  more  love  left  and  I couldn’t raise my child in those circumstances. When  we  moved  out  Dylan  became  a  different  child.  He  used  to  spend hours playing computer games or watching  TV  but  now  he  suddenly  enjoyed playing outside.”

She recalls how one day he drew pictures in the condensation on a window. “One picture was of him and me with smiles   on   our   faces   and   a heart next to us. He drew his  dad  a  small  distance  away with an upside-down mouth.  ‘Daddy  is  always  angry’   Dylan said .”

Nandia will keep her son’s ashes for the time being – it’s all she has left of the boy who was her everything and it’s too soon to even consider letting them go. When she feels ready she’ll place them in a remembrance wall, she says. Although  her  heart  is  broken  she’s  determined not to allow the tragedy to destroy her.

“I’m not going to shrivel up and die – that’s what Johann wanted.”

She and Dylan’s menagerie of beloved pets  –  Sonic  the  hedgehog,  Billy  the  spaniel,  Moemfie  the  rabbit  and  Ghatu  the  cat  –  will  be  spending  some time with her parents in Ceres.

She’ll decide the course for her life later, she says.

“But I know I’m going to live for my son. I have to find something positive in all of this.”





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