For twenty days the residents of two retirement homes in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, were racked with fear as three residents between two retirement homes were brutally murdered in what was supposed to be their safe haven. A place to live out their golden years in safety and security.
The victims were aged 92, 88 and 89. The accused, KG pleaded guilty to eight counts – including murder‚ housebreaking with intent to steal‚ theft and aggravated robbery. According to KG, he was driven by a drug addiction. The 22-year-old had scaled the walls of the retirement lodges‚ which lie adjacent to one another‚ with the intent to steal. Using drain pipes as a foothold‚ he climbed through windows on the lodges’ upper levels and forced his way into apartments.
Crime has significant and varying consequences on individuals, families and communities. It leaves people with altered perceptions of the world and how safe people feel living in the world.
The consequences further extend to emotional, psychological, physical and financial impact and in many cases of serious and violent crimes affects the spiritual lives of individuals and families.
Violent crimes are commonplace in our country. We read about violent crimes in the daily papers and watch it on the news. With the advancements in technology, we are exposed to watching such crimes on social media through clips that do their rounds. It almost feels as if a desensitisation process is taking place – exposing us to such violence daily, taking away the shock factor and making it a new kind of “normal”.
Crime is such a violation to both direct and indirect victims. It happens suddenly and unexpectedly despite being a possibility that is discussed around a braai or social event with friends and family. Crime violates and damages our sense of self, of what be believe in and often happens in our sacred private space.
We live our lives with the belief that the world as we know it is orderly, it has meaning and that we are able to govern ourselves. We know the difference between wrong and right and are law-abiding citizens. We expect from others what we know to be true for ourselves.
As individuals were are affected by crime differently. Factors that influence the impact that crime has on individuals is a person’s previous experiences of crime, levels of isolation, support systems, levels of vulnerability and access to resources – human and financial.
Dramatic reports of crimes against the elderly often make front-page news; however, crime in general against the elderly is lower than other age groups, yet the fear of falling victim to crime in this older age group is higher. The effects of crime against the elderly are far more traumatic, both financially and psychologically. The risk of physical injury is also greater.
Many elderly people live on a fixed monthly income and financial losses due to crime such as security upgrades, replacement of stolen property and medical accounts are not easily absorbed. They are not able to return to work to make up for lost income. Those who claim from insurance policies have their premiums increased after a new risk assessment.
After a violent crime has occurred, whether it has had a direct or indirect impact on the older person lifestyle changes take place. Movement is restricted to certain times of day, fear of leaving the home and being alone in the home increases, extreme security upgrades take place, isolation can also occur and the older person could withdraw from various activities that were normally taken part in freely. This results in a form of involuntary “house arrest”.
The residents of the retirement homes spent money that they didn’t have purchasing stronger burglar bars and installing panic buttons next to their beds and home entrances in the event of an intruder trying to gain access. Windows were kept closed and residents isolated themselves in their newly secured fortresses “just in case” there was someone outside wanting to hurt them. Staff members and carers reported that the residents were stressed, new illnesses had developed and current illnesses in some of the residents had worsened.
The elderly are vulnerable due to age related impairments such as deterioration of vision and hearing, along with reaction times to avoid danger are slower. Routines become very important and predictability creates a sense of security. When these routines are disrupted by the occurrence of a crime, extreme anxiety and stress develop causing already present levels of fear to escalate. The elderly do not cope with tension and anxiety as well as younger people.
Violent crimes committed against the elderly result in severe physical injuries. The recovery from these injuries is often a long and costly process. Some elderly people survive the incident, but never recover emotionally or physically and as a result, this can lead to a premature death.
The elderly have until that moment managed to structure, control and plan their own lives. They have been able to live independently and make important decisions for themselves. This is all shattered with such force that many live out their remaining years in terror.
The retirement home residents who would normally have gone to the dining hall for dinner wanted their meals delivered to them in their rooms. The staff of the retirement homes reported that the residents had stopped visiting one another and socialising. The passages were quiet.
The Judge in the case against KG, requested Victim Impact Statements to be taken from the residents of the retirements homes. The judged wanted to hear how the crime had impacted on the residents before he sentenced the accused. As the accused had pleaded guilty, there was no trial and no witnesses to gather further information on the impact of the crime. Victim Impact Statements were written by the staff and residents of the retirement homes discussing the impact the crime has had on them. Not only did the residents talk about the loss of their friends who were so violently murdered and how they felt; they also told the Judge about their fears of living in the retirement homes, some wished they could sell and move but they didn’t know where they would go and that they didn’t want to impose on their children. Common themes were that they were living in fear, and were scared to go into town. The financial losses for security upgrades were discussed and the loss of trust in humanity. Others reported now suffering from depression and a sense of helplessness that they had never experienced before the heinous murders.
The retirement home carers wrote about how the crime impacted on not only them and the residents but the families of the carers and staff who were constantly worried for their safety. The staff members who discovered the murdered elderly suffered extreme trauma. The image and reputation of the very secure retirement home was also tainted and received negative criticism over social media. “Joe Public” was quick to speak without understanding the manner in which the accused entered and exited the retirement home premises despite high walls, razor wire and security patrols.
Victim Impact statements for the Judge were also taken from the families of the murder victims. The following are extracts from the daughter of one of the victims.
“Mr H’s death came as a massive shock to my mother and all the other residents at the home. My mother was taken over by sadness. She was also totally horrified to find that he (KG) was on her veranda the same night he murdered Mr H. His finger-marks were on the lounge windows and sliding doors. To make things more upsetting for her, she found that he had defecated in her pot plant on the veranda. As the days progressed, fear set in and she locked herself in her bedroom at night for safety reasons. She was too afraid to sit alone in her lounge. My husband and I asked her nicely to come and stay with us until we could get some security sorted out. Being the independent woman she was, she said she would be all right.”
“I remember my mother’s words to me so well: “Please one death I won’t want is a murder. Please don’t anyone murder me”. This haunts me day to day.”
“The nurse from the retirement home phoned me on 31 July 2018 early morning with the devastating news. My mother had been murdered. I do not have words to describe the pain I felt; I felt sick and heart broken. That they could do it to someone that was so kind and generous. My mom was 88 years old and she did not deserve this. My relationship with my mother was so special.”
Residents from this home who could not afford security upgrades took to cable tying their windows closed.
KG through his lawyer in court said that he watched the movements of the elderly, the predictability of the movements. For the elderly routine creates safety and order, for the accused it was an opportunity. This placed the elderly residents at a higher risk than younger families. KG explained that he with agility and ease scaled the walls and hid low in the hedges so the security couldn’t see him and at times he watched them walking right past him. He appeared to take pride in this game of outwit and out play.
KG (22) was sentenced to 3 terms of life imprisonment and an additional 55 years in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. This has not changed the feelings or fears of the elderly residents whose fears are compounded daily by media reports of crime and violence. The effects of crime on the elderly are long lasting. The perceived fear of falling victim to crime at an older and more vulnerable age becoming a reality is devastating and life altering for the elderly. These fears, in turn, impact on personal health, restrict lifestyles and encourage social isolation.
A few of the residents are staff of the retirement homes were in court to hear the sentence. The next question that was asked amongst each other was “What if he didn’t act alone”. The higher levels of fear of falling victim to crime in the elderly of these two retirement homes continues.