‘They robbed us of a chance to say goodbye’
RECLUSIVE, living alone with a pack of over a dozen dogs in Hazendal, Michael Volkwyn had been on the police’s radar for a long time.
The annoying and, at times, strange activities on his Albemarle Road property – from the construction of a concrete bunker in his yard and gadgets littering his property – came to an end yesterday when the 61-year-old mechanical engineer shot a police officer who attempted to confiscate his animals.
Yesterday, when tactical teams rushed to breach his home – rumoured to be an obstacle course of booby traps – he took his own life, shooting himself in the head.
“Just Guns”, was scrawled on a cardboard poster tied to his gate.
“All he had was his dogs,” cried his sister Barbara Volkwyn shortly after he was declared dead.
Exhausted and broken, his family wept in the road outside his home. Just minutes earlier they had clung to the hope that Volkwyn, who had holed himself up inside his home after shooting the police officer, would hand himself over.
“They robbed us of our chance to say goodbye,” screamed a crying Barbara. She would later tell reporters how police had moved in with no warning, armed and ready to “take out” her brother.
She added that they could still have coaxed him out alive and well.
“We just needed more time,” she said to her sister, Diana, weeping into her shoulder. The sisters had planned to command the megaphone themselves and try to reach out to him.
The tense stand-off between police and the pensioner, a retired engineer who had done work for the military, began on Tuesday night when officers were called to the house after one of the man’s 13 “rescued dogs” attacked a local resident, police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said.
When police arrived on the property they were attacked by dogs, said Van Wyk.
As they threw a stun grenade to fend off the animals, a shot was fired from inside the home, injuring one of the officers in the face.
EMS spokesman Robert Daniels said the injured constable was rushed to Vincent Pallotti Hospital, where he was still receiving treatment yesterday afternoon.
Cape of Good Hope SPCA’s chief executive Allan Perrins, who had been called to help rescue the animals after Volkwyn’s death, said many of the dogs were hiding under Volkwyn’s bed, too scared to come out.
Perrins said it appeared that Volkwyn had shot one of his own dogs during the incident. “Inspectors from the SPCA entered the crime scene yesterday and were able to rescue 10 of the 13 dogs on the property. One of the remaining three was found shot dead,” he said.
Perrins said they hoped the other two had dashed to safety.
Perrins and residents said this was not Volkwyn’s first run-in with the police.
In 2000, police had breached his home and arrested him after he allegedly fired a bow and arrow at children playing in the street. The arrows luckily missed, burying themselves in cars parked in the road. The arrows also narrowly missed two security guards who had come to respond to residents’ calls for help.
Volkwyn’s home is small with a sprawling yard. Residents said his yard had been the construction site for a “strange” concrete bunker while his front garden was littered with gadgets and signs.
Yesterday’s siege was reminiscent of the standoff that followed the bow and arrow incident more than a decade ago.
The street was cleared quickly as police descended on the neighbourhood which borders the local railway track. Volkwyn’s sisters, including Barbara, and a few nieces, arrived to negotiate with the pensioner to hand himself over to police.
But as a the sun rose yesterday the street was still crawling with police as a negotiator called his name over a scratchy megaphone.
“Michael, wake up, wake up, Michael.”
But there was no response. On the sidelines his family paced back and forth. They spoke with one another, distraught and tired.
Had anyone heard from him?
Barbara shook her head.
“Please, please,” she said before bringing the cellphone to her ear again.
Volkwyn’s brother Roy Volkwyn had flown in from Joburg to help with the negotiations.
Local Community Policing Forum chairwoman, Aziza Kannemeyer, said everything possible was being done to get Volkwyn to leave his home.
At 11am the street suddenly went quiet. From a bridge, where passersby craned their necks to watch the drama unfold, there was excited shouts as a group of Special Task Force officers broke into the house.
After a few minutes they emerged again, paramedics rushing to meet them.
As investigators moved into the house, anxious-looking officers broke the news to Volkwyn’s family.
Barbara’s shoulders slumped and the quiet morning was suddenly pierced by her cries.