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‘Calmness saved me’ says 80-year-old hijack victim



A Johannesburg great-grandmother experienced a terrifying ordeal last week, when she was hijacked at gunpoint and taken on a joyride by two men who threatened to shoot her if she didn’t do what they said.

Sonia Margolias, 80, known for her feisty demeanour, was hijacked outside her daughter’s house in the Glenhazel area around lunchtime on Wednesday, 28 February.

Her unwavering calmness was the key to her survival, she said this week.

After securing herself in her Honda and starting the engine, two armed men appeared “out of nowhere” and demanded that she open the door, threatening to shoot her.

“I never screamed or hooted. I didn’t want my daughter and the kids to come running outside for fear of what would happen to them,” Margolias recounted.

The assailants pulled her out the driver’s seat, threw her onto the floor of the back seat, and covered her head with her thin, black nylon jacket, warning her not to look up.

Disoriented and unable to determine their direction, Margolias was driven around while the hijackers demanded her valuables, bank cards, and PIN numbers. In spite of the danger, she remained calm and prayed for her safety for the sake of her family, said the grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of six.

“I did everything they asked me to do so as not to aggravate them,” she said, recalling the endless drive. She was able to sift through the cards in her wallet while lying down, giving the driver one of her bank cards.

In a moment of quick thinking, she managed to slip her identity card and other important cards under the car’s backseat carpet while the one attacker kept her face down with his shoe on her head.

Eventually, the car came to a standstill in a cemetery in Marlboro.

The attackers yanked her out the car and threw her onto the ground, threatening her not to look up. They stole her jewellery, including a sentimental necklace from her late husband, and left her abandoned among the tombstones, with no phone and no money. Alone and disoriented, Margolias screamed for help, but found no-one around. She eventually spotted a fence and was noticed by a passer-by who kindly assisted her in getting help.

“He took me to a nearby building with a security guard, who gave me a chair to sit on and some water,” said Margolias, who proceeded to use his phone to call her daughter.

Upon receiving a call from her mom on an unfamiliar number, her daughter, Laureen Shalpid, realised immediately that something was wrong.

“She said she had been hijacked. When she said she didn’t know where she was, I realised that she had been kidnapped,” said Shalpid.

Fast acting, she pressed her panic button which alerted CAP (Community Active Protection) to the emergency, which immediately sprang into action.

“There were so many good people around – the man who found her and took care of her; the security guard who sent their location coordinates to my daughter; the police who arrived to take her to Sandringham Police Station; and CAP, who kept the family calm on the phone throughout,” said Shalpid this week.

“When I finally saw my mom at the police station, it was the best moment,” she said.

Not long after that, CAP located the vehicle.

Reflecting on the ordeal, Margolias emphasised the importance of staying calm and focused. “Even though it’s traumatic, you have to stay calm, cool, and collected, however hard it is, and do what they say. I stayed focused, and in the end, I was the winner. By being in control, it calmed them down. It was difficult, but I think that’s what saved me,” she said, expressing gratitude for her safe return and the support of the community.

“The whole time, what was going through my mind was, ‘Please G-d, let me be safe for my family,’” she said. Filled with joy at her mom’s safe return, Shalpid took to Facebook to express her gratitude to CAP and all those involved in rescuing her mom giving them a “huge shout out”.

“I need to share an incident that was negative and could have gone completely down a horrendous slippery slope, but instead there was a positive outcome,” she said.

“CAP responded within minutes, and had vehicles at my house in no time. Staff were calm on the other end of the phone while I was in a panic.

“They kept us informed and calm all the way. They knew what they were doing. In fact, the guys that found the car came past to check that my mom was OK,” she said. “There are so many heroes in this story, but the real hero is my mom. She’s brave, and kept her wits about her. She’s level headed and calm.”

Dean Immermann, the chief security officer at CAP, said, “Our teams are trained to handle complicated scenarios such as this, and I believe this was demonstrated on the day”.

“We’re grateful that the victim was helped by a Good Samaritan and released back to her family without injury. Our dedicated teams are working tirelessly to bring those responsible to book, and hope to report on this in the coming weeks.”

Immermann emphasised two key basic protocols to people in public spaces: first, practice defensive behaviour. Always be aware, alert, and conscious of what’s happening around you, especially when using public spaces. Second, report all suspicious activity, as the number of incidents prevented by merely reporting suspicious activity is tried and tested.

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