Vicious firecracker prank causes havoc

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A young Port Elizabeth schoolboy was severely injured at the weekend when a firecracker exploded in his face after it was offered to him by three young men as a “cigarette” and then lit.

The three brothers from Summerstrand – the sons of a police colonel, all in their 20s – have now been linked to an investigation of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, which could be changed to attempted murder.

As a result of the explosion , Shane Witbooi, 12, a Grade 6 pupil at Rufane Donkin Primary School, in Gelvandale, is in hospital with burns to his face and arms, his eyes swollen shut, and unable to speak .

The extent of the damage to his eyes and ears will be known after more testing.

The “prank” took place in the early hours of Sunday, when Humewood and Summerstrand residents reported hearing loud bangs and explosions.

Hospital staff say that, although Witbooi is no longer in a critical condition, he is in severe pain and the extent of permanent damage remains to be seen.

Because of the severity of the teenager’s injuries the police are considering altering the charge to attempted murder.

During an interview at his bedside yesterday afternoon, Witbooi slurred: “Pray for me, pray for me.”

Shocked nurses said he was in pain and crying for his grandparents yesterday morning. His

devastated and angry grandparents James Witbooi, 61, and Beatrice, 62 – who look after the boy – said they were glad he was alive after he went missing on Saturday afternoon.

Beatrice asked: “Who does this to a child? How would you feel if this was your child lying here?”

Police spokesman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the incident happened at about 2am on Sunday, when three males approached two people in the parking area across from McDonald’s in Beach Road.

“According to police information, a ‘cigarette’ was offered to vagrants and a 12-year-old accepted it. The ‘cigarette’ was allegedly lit by one of the three men and seconds later it blew up in the face of the child,” Naidu said.

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The three men then sped off in a bakkie.

Naidu – who confirmed that three prime suspects in the crime are the children of a police colonel – said the police were alerted and the registration number of the vehicle was traced to a house in Summerstrand.

Humewood police station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll said yesterday: “This is a very serious incident and has likely changed this youngster’s life forever.”