The six-year-old daughter of a South African power boat champion who was snatched from her mother’s arms outside a school has been found safe after her kidnappers dumped her on a street corner in the middle of the night.
Amy-Lee de Jager, daughter of Wynand de Jager, was found in tears by a couple in the early hours of Tuesday morning, 19 hours after being taken in front of her distraught mother in Johannesburg.
She was reunited with her ‘heartbroken’ family who described the ordeal as the ‘longest 19 hours of our lives’, but added they are relieved she is safe.
Police told TimesLIVE that none of the £110,000 ransom the kidnappers had been demanding was paid, and that the gang likely panicked after seeing the amount of publicity the case generated.
Amy-Lee de Jager (pictured) was snatched by a gang outside her school in Johannesburg on Monday, but was found early Tuesday after being abandoned on a street corner
A police source said: ‘Her photo was all over the internet and the news and we think they thought they were better off cutting their losses and ditching Amy-Lee.’
Louise Horn, Amy-Lee’s aunt, told TimesLIVE: ‘She has been found. The people dropped her off in the streets and a woman and her man heard her crying and rushed her to the police station. It was about 2am this morning.
‘Everything is okay, she wasn’t harmed. She also undergone tests at the hospital, so everything is okay. The family is still very heartbroken, but we are just thankful that she is alive.
‘It was the longest 19 hours of our families’ lives and we are really glad she is back with us.’
Louise said that the first thing Amy-Lee did after being returned was to ask for a burger and to see her brother – five-year-old Jayden.
‘Angeline is traumatised as is Wynand and it is going to be a long road of recovery for all of them,’ she added.
Amy-Lee (left), who is the daughter F1 racer Wynand de Jager (second left) was grabbed from her mother Angeline de Jager (right) at around 7.40am on Monday morning. Her brother Jayden (front centre) was said to have witnessed the incident
Another relative, Zandelee Brouwer, wrote on social media: ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amy-Lee is safe.
‘Please respect her mother and father’s privacy at this stage. Everyone has been through a long, rough day/night.’
Another family member, Martino Brouwer, added: ‘She is now safe. Thank you to everyone that stood with our family today and helped us get her back.’
Police spokesman Brig Vishnu Naidoo told TimesLIVE: ‘Amy was found this morning and she is undergoing a medical examination at a local hospital.
‘The investigation into her disappearance and sudden reappearance is ongoing. It is our appeal that this investigation be allowed to take its course.’
Amy-Lee was grabbed outside a primary school on the outskirts of Johannesburg at around 7.40am Monday morning.
The girl’s mother, Angeline, suffered a shoulder injury as she battled in vain to keep hold of her screaming daughter as the four-strong gang struck.
Power boat racer Mr De Jager (pictured above competing) had been asked to pay a two-million rand ransom (£110,000)
Amy-Lee’s father, F1 powerboat racer Wynand de Jager, later received a phonecall from the thugs demanding two million rand (£110,000). It was not revealed what the gang threatened if the money was not forthcoming.
The youngster had been outside the gates of Kollegepark Primary School in Vanderbijlpark with her mother and five-year-old brother when the gang swooped in a 4×4 Toyota Fortuner.
Video footage shows the moments leading up to the incident, as police continued their desperate search through the night for Amy-Lee.
Witness Annemarie Pienaar, who had just dropped her son off and walked him to class, told Vaal Weekblad newspaper that she was five yards from Amy-Lee’s car when she witnessed the kidnap right in front of her.
She said: ‘I heard a woman screaming, and when I looked up I saw a white Toyota Fortuner and just saw how the mother fell on the ground and saw how the vehicle pulled away or bumped her.
‘I could not see the men or, at that stage, a registration number and the windows were blacked out.
Mr de Jager (right) was contacted after his daughter (left) had been taken and has been asked to pay a ransom for her safer return
Amy-Lee (left) was snatched from her mother (right) on Monday morning outside her primary school
‘The next moment there was a little boy at the gate screaming. One could see the fear on his face. I picked him up and he just screamed, ‘My sister, my sister!’ I then took him to his class.
‘I at first thought it was the mother’s vehicle that was stolen but was then told that they had grabbed the child from her and bundled her into the Fortuner and then drover her away.’
She had been wearing a pink dress with black leggings when she was taken and Captain Kay Makhubele from the South African Police Service has urged anyone with information to come forward.
Amy-Lee’s grandfather Martin Brouwers said that the family has left everything to police negotiators and his daughter Angeline was still in shock following the incident.
‘My daughter was dropping off the kids off at school and when the two little ones climbed out, Angeline walked around the side to take Amy-Lee out and a guy just bumped little Jayden out the way and grabbed Amy-Lee, jumped into the car and they started flying off.
‘Angeline tried to hold onto the car and she couldn’t hold on and got seriously hurt.’
Police in South Africa issued an appeal for the return of the youngster (pictured)
Jayden, pictured above with his sister Amy-Lee was cared for by their aunt, while their parents remained at the police station
Amy-Lee’s grandfather said before the family left everything to police negotiators (Amy-Lee pictured above with her mother)
Amy Lee’s aunt has since been caring for little Jayden, while the family remained at the police station.
Louise Horn said Jayden was ‘traumatised’ by the incident.
‘Her mother and father are at the police station with the hostage negotiators and are waiting in case the captors call again but are in a dark place are not holding up well as you can imagine.’
A source close to the family said: ‘You can only imagine what is going through the minds of her mother and father but this was clearly not a random attack and this had been planned.
‘The police have been brilliant and are doing all that they can do get her back home safe but it is just terrifying. Amy-Lee is six and defenceless. Her mum and dad are having nightmares.’
Wendy Pascoe, a private investigator who specialises in tracing missing children, was called in along with hostage negotiators and tracing teams and the SA Crime Intelligence Unit.
In happier times Amy-Lee enjoying a trip (right) and with her mother and brother (left)
Wendy told TimesLIVE: ‘When the call came through I began assisting at the police station as we do with cases of missing children but we have handed it over now to hostage negotiators.
‘This is not something we usually see with kidnappings and what is odd is that the vehicle wasn’t taken but the child was as usually the child is taken by mistake when a car is hijacked.
‘What is also very curious is that the abductors seem to have targeted Amy-Lee as they paid no attention to the other children which tells us that they were waiting for her,’ she said.
A spokesman for the local Gauteng Education Department expressed their shock and said they had brought in expert counsellors to talk to parents and children who were in tears after the abduction.
Member for the School Governing Body Andries Pienaar said: ‘We are all very shocked by what happened but you can clearly see this was a well-planned abduction of a child from her mother.’
Captain Makhubele told said a huge manhunt had been launched and asked for anyone with any information that could help recover Amy-Lee safe and well to contact the South African Police Service.
Mr de Jager is the son of one of South Africa’s most famous F1 Grand Prix powerboat racers, Elzane De Jager who died in 2011.