EARLY on Saturday morning, shoppers at the Randridge Mall witnessed the centre’s cleaners mopping blood puddles off the white tiles outside NWJ Jewellers. The 56-year-old jewellery store owner, her one-year-old grandson and a bystander, 47, had been shot and rushed to hospitals.
Less than 4km away, diamond rings, gold chains and silver earrings spilled out on to the tarmac.
This was the fourth jewellery store to be robbed in Gauteng this month. The thugs left at 10.30am and five minutes later the eight suspects were hiding in a nursery in Northcliff.
After a 4km car chase towards Fairland involving the police, the suspects crashed their white double-cab Isuzu getaway bakkie into a grey Volvo C70 on the corner of Pendoring Road and Fir Drive.
Volvo driver Hentus Lemmea said: “When I got out, I thought it was an accident. Then the men started shooting, so we took cover behind the car.”
The suspects fled on foot. Gauteng’s deputy police commissioner, Major-General Phumza Gela, said they had asked for back-up support from the Flying Squad and the K9 unit to sniff out the suspects. “We found them in the ceiling, in the geyser, everywhere,” said Gela, describing how the suspects had been found hiding in the nursery shop.
A police officer is recovering in hospital after being shot during the operation, but four of the eight suspects were arrested and two handguns were recovered. Three black “Big Five” animal-print carry bags were found and all the jewellery was recovered.
“These are not 9mm handgun rounds. This is the work of an AK-47,” said a detective investigating burnt-out shells on the ground. “Four suspects are still on the run.”
His hands, like the white bakkie, were covered in black toner as the police searched for fingerprints.
“We are still pursuing the other four on the run,” said Gela.
While he was reluctant to attribute the recent spate of robberies to a syndicate, he said: “Jewellery stores are being targeted.”
On Wednesday June 6, jewellery worth R2million was taken by gun-toting thugs during a robbery at the GoldHeart Jewellers store in Signet Terrace shopping centre in Lenasia.
Meanwhile, on the same Wednesday two weeks ago, two men were injured in a shooting when a gang of armed men held up the NWJ Jewellery store at The Boulders shopping centre in Midrand.
Gela said: “Since the recent robberies of jewellery stores, we have put measures in place which enabled us to respond so quickly in this instance.
“We have sensitised all sector vehicles to look out for activity near jewellery stores.”
Illana Bidgood a hairdresser in the salon next to the jewellery store, said none of the robbers’ faces had been covered.
“They dressed well; leather jackets, buttoned shirts, designer jeans and formal shoes.”
Bidgood said they had begun shooting on their departure.
“This is the third time NWJ has been robbed,” she said.
Bidgood said she had met the men who robbed the store before.
“Last Thursday, they kept coming into the salon and asking where the back doors are and knocking on the walls,” she said.
The four suspects will appear at Randburg Magistrate’s Court today charged with armed robbery and four counts of attempted murder.
SAPS spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said they had some leads but had not yet located the other four suspects.
Regarding the possibility of a syndicate of jewellery thieves, he said: “At this stage we don’t know whether it’s one group, but the suspects arrested will be profiled to see if they are linked to other crimes.”