CAPE TOWN - A New Somerset Hospital nurse with over two decades of experience used her psychiatric proficiency to avert a possible mass killing in the surgery ward that had more than 20 people.
She did this by approaching and sedating a gun-toting man who allegedly shot and killed two patients aged 42 and 48 and wounding 32-year-old police constable Donay Phillips who was later confirmed dead on Sunday.
One of the patients has since been identified as Jerit Carolus from Laingville in St Helena Bay, while the family of the second is still being traced as he is believed to have been homeless.
Just after 7pm on Saturday an altercation between the alleged 40-year-old shooter who had just been discharged and another patient had apparently erupted on the second floor in the surgical ward.
Philips, who was in a neighbouring ward safeguarding a suspect, went to investigate the noise and the alleged shooter also got into an altercation with the officer.
“Reports from the scene indicate that Sea Point police had taken a 35-year-old suspect to New Somerset Hospital for medical attention when a man in the ward grabbed the firearm of a police official and shot him through the head. The man then shot two patients who were in his proximity. Both died on the scene,” said police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa.
Potelwa said the alleged shooter was in police custody.
Philips died at about 3.15am at Groote Schuur Hospital on Sunday morning, hours after being transferred from New Somerset Hospital in Green Point.
At the time of the incident the alleged shooter from Vredendal was waiting for his transport after being discharged, according to Western Cape Health Department chief operations officer Dr Saadiq Kariem.
“The staff tried to move the patients from the immediate danger. A matron nurse who has been in the fraternity for years and had vast psychiatric experience calmly requested to join the shooter inside the ward.
“When he agreed she went inside, managed to calm the man down, convinced him to hand over the firearm and sedated him. This is far off what we call ‘going beyond the call of duty’.
“She risked her life because she wanted to assist other people. On Sunday she still came to report for duty and we had to send her home. All staff and patients will continue to receive counselling,” said Kariem.
He said the facility had to be on temporary lockdown on Saturday because patients who needed medical attention were allowed inside.
Security measures have also been beefed up.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo visited the hospital on Sunday where he hailed the brave matron and all staff members.
“It’s unfortunate that instead we wish our staff, who mostly are hard working nurses, a happy Mother’s Day. We have been compelled to check how they are coping following Saturday's tragic shooting incident. I encourage the staff not to underestimate the psychological trauma they may be going through. The support and counselling sessions will assist them.
“I take off my hat for the heroine who prevented more deaths by putting her life on the line. I will be engaging with the Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla to find some space in our busy programmes to recognise and acknowledge her. Even if I only return with other health leaders. I wanted to see her but I understood she had to be sent home. She brought the spirit of Florence Nightingale, a calling that drives her. We send our heartfelt condolences to all the victims’ families,” said Dhlomo.
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo also conveyed condolences to the family and applauded the healthcare staff for their professional and effective management of the incident.
Community Safety and Police Oversight MEC Reagan Allensaid: “It is gut-wrenching that an officer should lose his life in this manner. We regard an attack on the police as a direct attack on us all, and this cannot become the norm.”
Phillips from George joined the South African Police Service in 2017.
His boss, Sea Point station commander Helena Mouton, described him as a dedicated and well-disciplined police official, who performed his duties with pride and to the best of his ability.
His colleagues recall a very neat police constable who was exemplary in conduct and friendly.