Woman hit in home by mystery bullet

Crime & Courts

Johannesburg - No one is sure where a bullet that crashed through a Westdene woman’s roof and lodged in her leg was fired from.

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A hole is seen in the roof where a bullet that hit Rachel van Niekerk in the leg came through as she slept in her bedroom in Westdene.
290113. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu713
Rachel van Niekerk says she never expected to be shot as she slept in her house in Westdene by a bullet that came through the roof of her bedroom.
290113. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Police and independent forensic investigators are in disagreement about what could have happened.

It was probably a one-in-a-million chance, but it happened to Rachel van Niekerk that a bullet crashed through her roof and hit her in the leg. She was doing exercises to combat the effects of the rare syndrome she was diagnosed with four years ago when it happened.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Van Niekerk, who was stretching her muscles in bed at her Westdene home around 8.20pm on Saturday when she heard a loud noise and noticed that her leg was bleeding.

The stretches are part of the exercises she must do routinely to combat the effects of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which affects the nervous system and causes weakness of the muscles and, eventually, paralysis.

The syndrome affects about one in 100 000 people.

“I was standing at the back of the house when I heard this clack, like a stone hitting the roof,” said her husband Melt, pointing at the bullet hole.

A case of attempted murder had been opened by the police, said Sophiatown SAPS spokesman Warrant Officer Jerbes de Bruyn. The forensics have not been completed and the police could give no further details. “Whenever you shoot up in the air, the bullet must come down,” said De Bruyn.

However, an independent ballistics expert said this was not possible. “It won’t have the energy to penetrate through the roof and into that woman’s leg,” said Tom “Wollie” Wolmarans. He said although he did not have details of the scene, he believed that it must have been fired from a height, such as a block of flats or a hill.

Another independent consulting forensic scientist, Dr David Klatzow, agreed that it was unlikely the bullet had come from a gun fired into the air.

When the bullet fired into the air reaches the peak of its trajectory, it will lose velocity and fall to earth under gravitational pull. It will also not fly straight any more, due to wind resistance. “Unless it had a component of its muzzle velocity (the speed at which it leaves the muzzle), it couldn’t penetrate the roof,” Klatzow added.

The husband and wife said a forensic team had investigated the bullet hole on Monday and told them that the bullet had entered the roof from the direction of Westbury, less than 1km to the west.

The couple also said they often hear gunshots, normally over weekends and on public holidays, and they believed it was people firing guns into the air.

“I said ‘I’ve been shot’, I just knew it when I saw the blood,” Rachel said.

The bullet crashed through the tin roof of the house and the ceiling of the bedroom before lodging in Rachel’s leg.

She was taken to Garden City Clinic nearby, treated and X-rayed. She said the bullet would be left in her leg unless it becomes infected, as surgery may cause further complications due to the GBS.

Just a month ago, Rachel was delighted that she had moved from using a walking frame to crutches to get around, but due to the bullet wound, she is back to using the frame.

“If talking about it can prevent one more incident like this happening, I will be happy,” Rachel added.

The couple thanked the police and emergency services for their quick response.

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The Star

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