Courtney's mom Juanita Pieters Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA Pictures
Cape Town - “Her body was not cold yet.”

This was the observation of a family member at the scene where the body of Courtney Pieters was found on Saturday afternoon.

The search for the three-year-old girl from Salberau, Elsies River, ended in tragedy when the child, who had been missing for nine days, was found hidden under twigs on a field in Epping Industria at 1.30pm.

Courtney’s exhausted and grief-stricken parents spoke to the Daily Voice on Sunday morning, after positively identifying their daughter at Tygerberg Mortuary.

Mother Juanita, 42, said: “I am at peace, I think. At least she is back and I can say a proper goodbye.

“I do not know who took my child, but I believe God has a plan for us all. This has happened for a reason and I will, maybe not today, because I am truly dead inside, but someday, be able to live again,” she said as tears ran down her face.

Dad Aaron, who had been quiet throughout the 10-day ordeal, finally broke his silence.

“She was so pretty, so joyful, so loving. I will miss her dearly,” he said.

Asked how he knew it was Courtney’s body, he said: “Sy’s mos my kind. Dit was haar klere wat sy aangehad het.  (She's my child. It was her clothes that she had on.)

“It was her face, her nose, her forehead, her hair and her hands. She was there. All of her.

The last time Juanita had seen her daughter was on May 4.

Three-year-old Courtney Pieters. Picture: Supplied

The factory worker had left the little girl with her six-year-old at their Pluto Street home and set off for work .

For nine days, community organisations, neighbours and the police hunted high and low for Courtney.

On Saturday morning, a search team of more than 200 volunteers had continued combing the Elsies River area.

But cousin and Pieters family spokesperson, Celeste Adonis, says she had a “strong feeling” that led them to Bofors Circle, Epping.

Pam Scholtz, 54, of the Delft Neighbourhood Watch, said that at exactly 1.30pm, as the search was being called off, she stopped dead in her tracks on a field opposite the Truworths distribution centre.

“I just pulled someone and pointed. I cried because I knew even before everyone else came. Part of me just died. I had hoped so hard,” says Pam.
Later that evening she went to the parents and said she was sorry she was not able to find Courtney alive.

Celeste, accompanied by police, describes what she saw upon inspecting the body.

“I had to touch her and she was not completely cold yet. She still felt so warm,” she said.

“She was covered with branches, not really buried. I recognised her face.

“Then I looked down at the shirt and pants. Only the top part of her body had been covered.”

Suspecting that Courtney had been raped and killed soon before she was found, Celeste continues: “Her one foot and leg halfway up was showing. It was done quickly and I think recently.

“While we were searching for our baby this week, she was still alive. I am mad at the person who did this and we will not rest till we have justice for what she had to endure.”

She added that there was a tear in her denim shorts between the legs.

Police have yet to do an autopsy to determine the time and cause of death.

By 3pm, the search parties, police, forensics and residents of Elsies River, about 300 people in total, gathered to wait at the field.

Safety and Security MEC Dan Plato was also present.

When police confirmed the identity, a wail of pain rose from the crowd.

Not a dry eye could be seen, grown men stood weeping.

As the morgue van escorted Courtney away, people bowed their heads, praying, and then left for the family home where a candlelit vigil was held.

Inside the house there was a buzz of activity, but cries could be heard from upstairs as Juanita and Aaron dealt with the death of their baby.

They sat on their beds crying and nodding at the condolences, unable to speak from grief.

Celeste said Juanita had taken sedatives for the shock.

On Sunday afternoon, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the spot where she body was found.

Family, neighbours and volunteers came out in their numbers to say the first of many goodbyes.

It was a tearful procession with no words to console the hundred of mourners who had come to pay their respects to Courtney, a girl most of them never knew.

Daily Voice