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Hijacking victim: CAP saved my life

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“I thought I was going to die, and in a way I wished I would, not knowing what would happen,” says Stacey Urdang, who was hijacked with her baby son in Johannesburg last week. “They threatened that if I or my son screamed or cried, they would shoot us,” she recalls.
by TALI FEINBERG | May 09, 2019

In a miraculous chain of events, she was rescued unharmed by Community Active Protection (CAP) Security, to which she says she owes her life. The incident has sent shockwaves around the South African and global Jewish community, because in spite of high crime levels in South Africa, such an incident has become increasingly rare.

Urdang says she wants to share her story to empower herself, to set the record straight about what happened, and mostly to pay tribute to CAP for its heroic efforts.

It all started when she collected her son from crèche. She had just put him in his car seat and was walking to the driver’s seat, when she was approached by a man who first greeted her and then held a gun to her head and pushed her into the vehicle. “He said, ‘Good afternoon ma’am. This is a hijacking.’”

She doesn’t remember much of the following moments. She doesn’t remember screaming, which she later realised was her “one window of opportunity and weapon”. She doesn’t remember how they got her keys, or when the other two suspects arrived. But after she screamed, school staff realised something was wrong, pressed a panic button, and alerted her emergency contact – her husband Ryan.

He immediately went into action, alerting CAP and using the tracking app, Life360, on her phone to tell them where she was. “This was a game changer, and made CAP’s job a lot easier. There are so many ‘what ifs’,” she says.

But, during the 45 minutes in the hijacked car, Urdang says she was “none the wiser” that staff had heard her scream, that her husband had activated the tracking app, or that CAP was following her. She tried to keep note of landmarks, and she stayed calm, even though she says, “My whole life flashed before me. My only concern was the safety of my baby boy. All focus and attention was on him, holding him, and ensuring he was okay.”

She even considered trying to escape with her son. “I was terrified they would drive off with him,” she says. Incredibly, the baby smiled and even laughed, not reacting to the drama unfolding around him. At times, the suspects said he was cute, and asked his name and how old he was.

It was only when CAP closed in and a shootout ensued did the little boy cry. Incredibly, the one suspect held Urdang’s head down, possibly to protect her. He also shouted, “There’s a child in the car!” He was the same suspect who had promised he would drop her off at some point, and Urdang hoped that he would recognise their common humanity in those moments.

The shootout meant that the suspect driving the car was hitting 160km an hour, despite the afternoon traffic. “He drove like it was his job,” says Urdang, emphasising that these were experienced hijackers. Even as shots were fired, she didn’t know it was a rescue effort. But eventually the car was cornered, and the suspects split up and fled. They have still not been found, but CAP and the Community Security Organisation (CSO) remain on the chase. Urdang made a statement to the South African Police Services, and was given a case number, but has not heard from them since.

And so, Urdang and her son were rescued in the middle of Alexandra township. “Afterwards, the trauma hit, and I just sobbed. The scene was surrounded by red tape, and we sat at the back of a vehicle as they tried to catch these guys.” She was taken to CAP head office where she was debriefed, and she is not shy to say she is seeing a trauma counsellor.

“I am forever changed by this, and have a whole new normal ahead of me.” Thankfully, her son does not seem to be affected. “It’s his first birthday coming up, and that was almost taken away. He is too little to understand, but my husband and I are responsible for whether he views this with fear or resilience. It is now part of his story, and we can’t take it away. But we don’t need to make him scared.”

Urdang wants to pay tribute to CAP. “I shudder to think what would have happened without it. We take [security providers] for granted, but for me and my family, we are deeply grateful and 100% indebted to it for this second chance at life.”

She says she is not thinking of leaving South Africa as her support system here is irreplaceable. “I don’t think trauma can be overcome by moving away from the people you know and love. This is home. I’m also indebted to my family and friends who helped me regain my footing in the world. I am definitely on high alert, but I want to try and grow from this instead of running away.”

While Urdang believes this is a freak incident, she knows these were experienced hijackers. She advises mothers to be extra vigilant, especially when putting children into the car.

Mark van Jaarsveld from CAP agrees. This is “a very rare thing. It’s not evolving and is limited to this one incident, but we will keep our eyes on it, and advise the community. Our main message is to be vigilant and aware. These three suspects entered the area on foot off a main road, yet no one reported it. If you see two or more men who are not usually in that environment, report it. Try park inside a secure property and have a tracking app – CAP is releasing one in a few weeks. Crime is generally down, but play your part and continue to be vigilant.”

Says Urdang, “I want it to be known that for my family and I, everybody who was involved played a pivotal role in the positive outcome. We are 100% indebted to CAP and the CSO, the community, as well as everyone behind the scenes who managed to reunite me with my family. Please donate to these organisations.”

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