Five-year-old Liam Simons was playing with a friend in front of his Bonteheuwel home when he was shot three times by a suspected gangster.
He survived, but the wounds he will carry, like those of so many other children caught in the de-facto Cape Flats gang insurgency, won’t just be physical.
Children who survive the violence get to play the trauma over and over again in the minds, says clinical psychologist Carin-Lee Masters.
This, she says, takes the form of night terrors, nightmares, anxiety, sleeping and eating disorders, and flashbacks. It’s hard to stop this horror movie in their heads, she says, unless they are removed from the environment that continues to trigger the trauma.
Liam and his friend had been playing in front of the Simons’s house in Syringa Street on Sunday March 24, at about 4pm, when a man ran inside: he was looking for cover.
His assailant kept firing and three bullets hit Liam. He was shot twice in his buttocks and once in his back. His nine-year-old friend escaped with a flesh wound.
The man who took cover in the house was shot in the leg and taken to Groote Schuur Hospital, according to Bonteheuwel ward councillor, Angus Mckenzie, who is speaking on behalf of the Simons family.
Liam was taken to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
A hospital spokesman, Dwayne Evans, said the bullets were left in Liam because of how they were lodged in his body: they posed no immediate threat to his health and removing them now could do more harm than good.
Liam was discharged from hospital on Tuesday March 26 and is recovering at home.
According to Mr Mckenzie, Liam’s mother, Genel Simons, is grateful her child survived the shooting, but is distraught.
“A five-year-old being shot is not okay under any circumstances,” he said. “March has been quiet, but I suspect this shooting is because of drug turf.”
He added that while March had been “quiet”, the same couldn’t be said for the first two months of the year. Gang-related shootings claimed 20 lives in January and February.
Mr Mckenzie is appealing for people to come forward with information to put Liam’s shooter behind bars and stop him adding to death toll.
“We need the community’s help so that this man can be locked up and stop hurting our children. Someone must know this man,” he said.
Bishop Lavis station commander Brigadier Christopher Jones couldn’t confirm whether it was a gangster who had shot Liam, but that possibility would be investigated, he said.
He also appealed for people to come forward with information. The shooting happened in broad daylight; someone must have seen something, he said.
“The street was never a hot spot, but now it will be a priority for us. A child has been shot and we cannot keep quiet about this,” he said.
Ms Masters said when a child experienced trauma, their body was flooded with stress hormones – cortisol and adrenalin -and they went into a flight, fight, freeze mode to survive.
“Once the traumatic event is over, it is not over within the body or mind, which goes on and shuts down the emotions and /or runs the ‘movie’ over and over in the mind. Traumatised children often act out the violent scenes over and over as they try to deal with what they’ve experienced.
The tragedy for many families living in a gang-war zone is they can’t afford to simply pick up their lives and move. But, Ms Masters said, parents in this predicament could help their children by exposing them to other experiences, so they could see there were better ways of living. This coukd be done, she said, by experiencing nature, visiting museums and science exhibitions.
Parents can also read to their children, take them to libraries and ask them about what they want for their futures. If children can dream of a better life for themselves, they’re less likely to join a gang.
Parents can also arrange counselling sessions with a psychologist.
“If the child grows up in a secure and loving home environment, where they see their parents as positive role models, including mostly lovingly engaging with each other and their children, studying, working, playing sport, and the like, they will be less susceptible to outside negative influences.
“Conflict is inevitable in human relations. However, if children see that their parents can resolve conflict through dialogue, in a more or less amicable way, these will also be internalised and act as protective factors,” said Ms Masters.
Anyone with information can contact crime stop on 08600 10111.