'I killed three didn't I?'

By Time of article published Aug 20, 2008

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By Angelique Serrao and Kanina Foss

The boy behind the mask was a quiet, polite boy who had an obsession. Morne Harmse's fixation with ninjas and masks turned deadly the day he brought a sword to school, intending to wield it.

One of his best friends, a fellow Grade 12 pupil at Nic Diederichs Technical High School in Krugersdorp, said Harmse was not himself the day he slew 16-year-old Jacques Pretorius and wounded three others.

"He was one of my best friends," said the teenager, who refused to be named. "But we didn't know the boy who did the attacking that day."

Harmse apparently tested negative for drugs, but pupils who saw him just before the attack believe he was definitely in an altered state.

"His eyes were not the same eyes, they were big and you just saw the whites. His voice was different," the friend said.

He described Harmse as shy, well-mannered and playful. "He never looked for trouble."

"He never had a bad thing to say about anybody," added the friend's sister.

Harmse had told people he was not a Christian, because God was not apparent in his life. Instead, he spoke about demonology.

But the friend was often in Harmse's room, and never saw any signs of Satanism.

"All that was in his room were his swords, neatly (placed) on the walls," he said.

According to the friend, Harmse bought one set of swords himself, his parents bought him another, and he made or repaired others.

After hearing that police yesterday found spell books, ouija boards and "lots of pentagrams" in Harmse's room - described by officers as "disturbing elements of Satanism" - he said he realised his friend had been involved in something far more sinister than he'd ever suspected.

In the last few weeks, the boys had become interested in the band Slipknot, and Harmse started making masks resembling those worn by the band members.

The friend said each mask had a personality. Some embodied "rape, murder or child abuse".

The one he wore on the day of the attacks, brown with dreadlocks, was called the "maggot mask".

He had another two in his bag - a clown mask bought at the Hollywood costume store, the other a hand-made papier mache one with holes drilled into it and an empty deodorant can as a gas filter at the mouth. It was painted black with red tribal marks.

His hobby caught on with his friends, who even wore their masks to civvies' days.

On Monday morning, Harmse packed three masks into his schoolbag, and took three swords.

At about 7.10am, the friend was walking to assembly when someone ran up to him and said: "Go bliksem (hit) Morne, he's not right."

Harmse already had on the brown mask with black dreadlocks - like the one worn by Slipknot's lead singer - and was smearing himself with black paint.

Some kids, thinking it was a joke, were taking photos.

"He was speaking about how he was going to kill people when the bell rang. We tried to talk him out of it, but he didn't want to listen," said the friend.

"I realised he was holding a bomb. One of the threads of the bomb came loose. He said: 'It's going to go off.' I took it out of his hands and threw it away.

"I fetched his school bag and saw the other masks. He grabbed one and said: 'Come on, join me and we'll all be part of it. Now we go on with the masquerade'."

Another boy put on a mask and took a sword. According to the friend, it was an attempt to reason with Harmse.

Police arrested the boy that afternoon.

He was due to appear alongside Harmse in court on Wednesday.

"Do you want to see something cool?" Harmse asked his friend.

The friend jerked away and the sword swung. After the blade had completed its arc, Pretorius lay in a pool of blood.

Someone shouted: "Run! He's mad!"

The friend ran to the school office to get help. He didn't see Harmse continue his rampage, which left another pupil and two groundsmen injured. All three have been discharged from hospital.

Eventually, Harmse sat down on a brick wall and stuck his sword into the ground.

His friend said Harmse was laughing. "I killed three people, didn't I?" he asked him.

"No, you struck four," said someone else.

"Even then he laughed," remembered the friend.

Harmse had been known to do a lot of drugs said the friend, but had been clean the whole weekend.

"Ninjas fascinated him and he wanted to be a ninja." He practised running on walls, climbing roofs, and once even fell out a tree.

The thing that amazed his friend is how strong Harmse appeared. The swords are heavy and need two hands to be swung. On Monday, Harmse swung it with ease.

"The blades were also blunt, so you must know the strength that he cut at the poor boy's throat."

A loner, Harmse enjoyed drawing and hadn't had a girlfriend since junior school.

The friend said he doesn't know how to react when next he sees Harmse.

"I want to forgive him, but I don't know if I can ever trust him. I was scared of him," he said.

- See Page 3

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