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THE Wonderpark Mall in Pretoria North was hit yesterday by a gang of armed robbers who escaped with an unspecified amount of jewellery and left a Tshwane metro police officer dead.
Between five and seven armed men stormed into the mall at about 11am and went straight to jewellery shop NWJ where they pointed guns at the staff before grabbing all the jewellery in the store and rushing out.
Provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said: “While fleeing, they saw a traffic officer near the entrance and they shot him.”
Tshwane metro police spokesman Console Tleane said: “Sergeant Piet von Bekkum was sitting on his police bike, probably unaware that a robbery was under way, when he was confronted by the robbers.”
Tleane said the 51 year-old officer was at the wrong place at the wrong time. One of the robbers walked up to him and shot him in the chest at point-blank range with a pistol.
“The robbers then escaped in a black Nissan Hardbody, which was followed out of the parking lot by a white Nissan Hardbody, all with an unknown number of occupants,” he said.
Von Bekkum was taken to Akasia Clinic where medical practitioners tried to save his life, but he died just after midday, Tleane said.
The robbers abandoned the black Hardbody – reportedly stolen from Hillbrow in Joburg on Wednesday night – on a street in Akasia and fled in a white minibus, the police said.
Although the police have not linked yesterday’s hit to the spate of jewellery heists that hit parts of Gauteng over the past few months, they said they were considering the possibility. Dlamini said: “We will definitely be looking into that. We just don’t know much at this stage.”
A manhunt for the robbers was immediately launched by the Tshwane metro police and the SAPS, but the robbers had not been arrested by late yesterday afternoon.
Tleane said: “The department is shocked and deeply angered by this cowardly act. Not only is crime a cancer in our society, the cold-blooded murder of a police officer has robbed the community a dedicated servant who has now paid with his life. Our thoughts and condolences go to the family. We wish that they remain strong during these testing times.”