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Wrong man arrested after LONE gunman senselessly attacks

by Staff reporter
04 Mar 2023 at 08:01hrs | Views
YOU would expect women and school children to be the only ones who walk home in groups to protect themselves from a violent armed robber but in the Empandeni area in Mangwe District, men can also be seen merging to discourage the gun-toting assailant, who shattered the serenity of the rural community, from attacking them.

Rural life is usually a simple affair punctuated by the early morning acoustic chorales of livestock, young kids running to school and the friendly voices of neighbours greeting one another on the way to their fields.

But life in the small villages of Empandeni turned upside down when news spread around the community that two schoolgirls - one in Form Three and the other in Form Four at Empandeni Girls High School - had been shot by an unknown assailant.

The trigger-happy gunman had allegedly tried to rob the two teenagers of their cellphones, which they were using to take pictures of a spilling dam near their school. For a community that rarely bears witness to violent crime, news of a gun toting assailant gone berserk in their village shattered the tranquillity they are used to, sending shivers down the spines of villagers that the man might be back to attack them.

The closest many of the villagers have seen a gun, a dangerous weapon that can cut short the life of a person in the blink of an eye is in movies on television.

Less than a kilometre from the main gate of Empandeni Girls High School is an average-sized dam - a source of water for the villagers' livestock and a fishing spot for the locals - that is easily accessible from all directions via interweaving dusty trails.

Indigenous trees, lush green grass and shrubs around the dam coupled with water lilies that grow on the water give the area a picture postcard ambience that draws learners of the school to the perfect setting for selfies and photos.

On the fateful day, the two girls were doing just that, taking selfies of the spilling dam whose capacity couldn't hold more water due to the incessant rains that pounded the area. The teenagers would undoubtedly post the photos on social media for their friends and classmates to envy.

Suddenly from nowhere, a man unknown to the girls, pounced on them demanding that they hand over their smartphones.

Ephraim Mambo a neighbourhood watch committee member relates the incident at the scene of the shooting

According to Ephraim Mambo, a neighbourhood watch committee member who works closely with the local police and one of the first villagers to attend the scene of the shooting, the girls flatly refused to hand over their gadgets.

"The man was riding a bicycle when he approached the girls and demanded that they hand over their mobile phones and they refused. The man is said to have pinned down one of the children on the ground trying to wrestle the phone from her.

"The other girl started running in the direction of the main road, screaming for help and that's when the attacker let go of the child who was on the ground. She also reacted quickly and ran away and that's when she was shot in the leg," said Mambo.

After shooting the learner, the assailant escaped on his bicycle. In no time news that two innocent kids had been attacked started making rounds in the community and a search party was immediately organised to try and apprehend the assailant.

"Four off-duty soldiers who are young men that grew up here quickly mobilised each other to catch the man but unfortunately it was getting dark and he had made good his escape because he knew the community would be baying for his blood.

"I'm a father myself and the sight of two terrified children shot in a senseless attack really broke my heart. They are just children who were minding their business and for them to be attacked like that is horrible.

"The villagers are living in fear, we don't know whether the attacker will come back and people are suspicious of strangers because no one except the girls can identify the man. So, every stranger is a suspect in the eyes of the villagers. Even grown men are moving in groups, that's how much people here are terrified after the shooting," he added.

The girls were admitted to hospital, treated and discharged.

A team of detectives from Plumtree Town together with local police attended the scene and recovered one shell casing from the fired gun. The shell casing is an important piece of evidence that will tie the gunman to the incident when and if he is caught through ballistics analysis.

When the Saturday Chronicle news crew visited the school, tensions were visibly high at the educational institution's grounds where six primary schools were taking part in an athletics competition.

Parents were in attendance to cheer their children on and also to accompany them back home as the shooting incident is still fresh in their minds.

Sibongile Ncube, a parent to two school-going, said they are now forced to walk their young kids to and from school.

"If the man can shoot a young girl for a cellphone, who knows what he will do to a grown woman or even kids in lower classes who won't be able to outrun him from their way to school or back home.

"Parents are now accompanying kids to school and we also move in groups for a better fighting chance if he attacks again.

"Since the day of the attack, I have not gone into the bush to collect firewood. It's too scary. Our wish is that the police quickly arrest the man and maybe our lives can go back to normal," said Ncube.

In a case of mistaken identity, a local villager tipped off the police that an injiva, who had just arrived from South Africa, was bragging at a local bar that he owned a gun.

"I guess the police had no choice but to take every lead seriously so the injiva was taken for questioning in Plumtree but was released after the victims stated that he was not the man that attacked them. The shooting incident is now causing friction among villagers because no one trusts the other and total strangers are viewed as suspects," said Mambo.

A short walk from the dam is the main dusty road used by buses, vehicles and scotch carts that leads to the shopping centre. One young man, who was drinking in the company of his friends, says that gone are the days when he would stagger home alone at night after drinking.

"We wait for each other and move in pairs or even groups. It's no longer safe to walk home from the bar when there is a man moving around our villages with a gun," he said after asking not to be named.

Matabeleland South police spokesperson Inspector Loveness Mangena said a manhunt for the gunman is underway but warned the community not to approach the suspect as he is considered armed and dangerous.

Source - The Chronicle
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