Hi-Tech Security operations manager Rudi van Niekerk believes the armed robbers, who attacked the pupils and 10 teachers from Laerskool Hennopspark in Centurion in the early hours of Thursday, were still in the Hazyview area.
“We know that they are hiding in the pine plantation close to the Aan de Vliet lodge, so with information from farmers and workers there is a good chance that the men will be caught,” Van Niekerk told a Sapa correspondent on Friday.
Van Niekerk explained that he and other Hi-Tech staff had patrolled the area around the lodge throughout Thursday night after the three men tried to persuade workers to reveal the location of manager Christo du Plessis’ house.
“We saw the criminals just across the river yesterday afternoon. We crossed the river and fired shots at them, but they got away. “A chopper patrolled from the air for a little while this morning, but had to leave to attend to the murder that took place in Sabie,” Van Niekerk said.
There have been suspicions of a link between the robbery and the murder, in which prominent timber farmer Paul Mason, 63, was shot dead on Thursday morning.
He was attacked when he and his wife, Gwyneth, 58, were accosted by four armed men when they returned home. During the attack at Aan de Vliet, 108 children and three of 10 teachers were held at gunpoint and robbed of their valuables.
“These defenceless children are easy targets, especially since they come from a wealthy area and all have cellphones,” said Van Niekerk. The school spokeswoman Anne Alkema described the actions of Juan Claassens, one of the teachers involved in the incident, as “heroic”.
“Juan was the one who was held at gunpoint and ordered to get the possessions from the children. He woke the children professionally, explained the situation, and kept them calm. He was the hero during this ordeal,” Alkema said.
The children, who arrived home on Thursday afternoon, were shaken but would be receiving counselling from the school.
The manner in which the police dealt with the crime has been questioned, after a dog unit reportedly left the scene without tracking the scent of the robbers.