Three men are in custody, while a fourth suspect is on the run, after Heinrich Hamm (58), an Afrikaans teacher and head of department at Hoërskool Birchleigh, was shot and killed on Saturday.
At the time of the incident, Hamm was riding with his brother-in-law, Charles Botha, and nephew Carlo (18), between mealie fields near the R25 – a route Hamm had been riding for 25 years and one popular among the cycling community.
According to Hamm’s sister, Madelein, the early-morning ride had become a tradition for the Rynfield, Benoni, family.
“Charles was at the front with Carlo riding between him and Heinrich. Without warning, shots were fired at Carlo, causing him to fall. As he hit the ground, one of the four suspects had a gun pointed at his head, with others shouting, ‘shoot him’,” she says.
She adds that Hamm reacted swiftly, distracting the armed assailant.
Carlo – a matriculant – doesn’t recall what transpired in those fateful seconds but remembers the shooter turning his attention to his uncle and firing a shot.
“Charles immediately shouted at Carlo, telling him to run,” explains Madelein.
Running about 1.5km, the teen came across fellow cyclists and asked them for help.
They recognised him and immediately rushed to the scene, while others headed to the road to flag down passing motorists. “Calls were made for medical assistance,” adds Botha.
“On their way back to the scene, Carlo was told his dad was safe, but Heinrich had sustained a gunshot.”
Hamm was unconscious at the time, but was later declared dead on the scene.
Arrests made, one sought
District communications officer Captain Neldah Sekgobela confirmed the incident and added that Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) officers arrested three suspects.
“Responding to calls for assistance, EMPD officers spotted a Toyota Avanza about 3km from the crime scene and gave chase,” explains EMPD spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Kelebogile Thepa.
“The fourth suspect evaded arrest. However, a manhunt has been launched. It is believed he fled the scene with the firearm.”
She says it is alleged that the suspects were travelling with another unidentified vehicle.
“The Avanza is allegedly used to transport stolen bicycles. Two bicycles were recovered from the vehicle, and neither belonged to the victims. It is suspected that the suspects may be involved in other cases of armed robbery, targeting cyclists,” adds Thepa.
She says this popular cycling route was identified as a hotspot and that the EMPD, SAPS and local security companies will ramp up patrols to try and prevent further robberies.
“We sympathise with the family during this time of grieving and extend our heartfelt condolences,” concludes Thepa.
The suspects were remanded in custody at the Olifantsfontein Police Station on charges of murder.
Remembering the victim
Madelein adds: “My brother was incredibly active and had completed numerous Comrades and Two Oceans marathons. Above all, he loved nature, along with his wife, Monique, and dog, Djembe. They would often embark on hiking trails. Charles says as they cleared a hill shortly before the incident, they stopped to watch the sun’s rays break through the clouds. It was raining in the distance.
“Looking at the magnificent sight, Heinrich told them a photo could never capture the true beauty. It was the last thing he said before his death.”
Pedal Power Association’s Neil Robinson and the cycling community are saddened by the murder of Hamm.
“It is a sad reality that as South Africans, we cannot engage in outdoor recreational activities without fear. Unfortunately, criminals have become aware of the monetary value of bicycles, and we are seeing a spike in bike-jackings,” Robinson told Benoni City Times.
According to Robinson, it is suspected that many stolen bicycles are dismantled before being transported across the border to neighbouring countries.
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