Eugene de Bruyns body was found on the school premises by the school caretaker before school opened on Monday morning.

Durban - Staff, pupils and the Westville Senior Primary School community are shocked and heartbroken after the death of their school principal of almost 16 years.

Eugene de Bruyn’s body was found on the school premises by the school caretaker before school opened on Monday morning.

It is believed he hanged himself.

Colleagues and pupils described De Bruyn, 52, as “wonderful” and a “great teacher and principal”.

He was said to have been suffering emotionally since the death of his wife about six years ago.

De Bruyn leaves his two children, one at high school and another studying in Pretoria, and his parents who live in a retirement home.

Trevor Hall, the principal of Westville Boys’ High School, who had worked with De Bruyn for many years, said his wife had suffered “very badly” from cancer and De Bruyn had not recovered from the trauma of her death.

“I knew he was quite torn up about it,” Hall said. “It is a huge shock to us. He was such a wonderful man and a great teacher and principal.”

Parents of pupils at the school were told of the principal’s death via e-mail and SMS. However, the school did not divulge details of how he died.

Tim Tyrrell, chairman of the school’s governing body, said the pupils were informed that De Bruyn had died, but were not told how.

“We do not believe it was appropriate for them to know the how; this is a very sensitive matter… Everybody is reeling. This came as a very unexpected shock. Everything is raw and hurting a lot.”

Staff members were also struggling to come to terms with De Bruyn’s death, some coping better than others.

Although he would not say whether the trauma of De Bruyn’s wife’s death led to his suicide, Tyrrell confirmed that she had died a few years ago and it had “hit him hard”.

Psychologists had been made available to staff, pupils and parents, who might require assistance, Tyrrell added.

A parent of one of the pupils said she was “heartbroken and shocked” to hear of De Bruyn’s death.

“He was a man of honour who led our school with clarity and conviction, and his passing leaves a hole in our community.

“It is a tragic next instalment for a family who have already suffered too much, and my prayers are with his children.”

One parent said it was believed that De Bruyn left home at 1.30am and drove to the school.

She said a note had been left for his girlfriend before he had left home.

SAPS spokesman Thulani Zwane said police had opened an inquest docket and a post-mortem would be conducted, although De Bruyn’s death was believed to have been by hanging.

Muzi Mahlambi, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said it would also send a psychological team to the school to debrief the staff and pupils.

Education MEC Neliswa Peggy Nkonyeni sent her condolences to the family, colleagues and pupils.

“We fervently pray that God gives them strength during this difficult period,” she said.

Mahlambi said teaching had not been affected by the tragedy, and the school was “100 percent operational”.

Counselling was also recommended for the staff member who found De Bruyn’s body, he said.

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The Mercury