In December, we made it through one of the most traumatic weeks of our lives, it taught us so much that I wish I had been doing before. It made me realise that we had not been prioritising our safety, even though I thought we were. So, I want to share what happened and what we learnt. I live in South Africa where crime is extremely high but even if you don’t, these tips could still be lifesaving. Let me start with a brief account of what happened…
Our home was broken into the early hours of the morning on Friday, 8 December. They cleaned up, took all our tech and personal belongings. It was horrible to think that someone had been in our home and invaded our space. There was the hassle of replacing computers, personal belongings, etc. It came as a shock. It made us feel sick and angry. We’ve always felt so safe in our boomed enclosure, behind our 4-meter walls and electric fence. Now our peace was taken.
We realised that we had become complacent… We had not armed the alarm and all our laptops, handbags, sunglass cases, etc. were on display for the picking. Our small opening windows also had no burglar bars. We weren’t always vigilantly locking all bedroom doors upstairs at night. Of course, we started jacking up security immediately… By Sunday we had a full camera system in place, bars ordered and ready to be installed and were arming the alarm and locking all internal doors upstairs. We thought we were safe.
We never expected what happened on Wednesday morning… I went down to get my celery juice as I always do and noticed a small window open, but everything was 100% fine inside and we had armed the alarm going to bed. Our helper often opens windows in the morning and hangs the washing. I didn’t want to be paranoid but went up to tell Costa (my hubby). He carried on getting ready for the day – we had the burglar bar people coming, the insurance assessor, it was going to be a busy morning. I lay back on the bed as I had a small surgery on 6 December and was still in a lot of pain. Mila was still asleep – thankfully her room inter-leads with ours and her door was locked.
Costa eventually headed out of our room and went to do his rounds and check the doors… as he reached the gym, three armed men jumped and tied him. He started shouting to warn me that they had him. I just managed to get our bedroom locked with Mila and I safely inside as they started to try and kick the door down. They told him to tell me to open the door, so he kept repeating that, but I knew he didn’t want me to. It was just so hard to ignore it – and try to think – especially when they kept repeating that they’d kill him if I didn’t. By this stage Mila was awake and hysterical and I couldn’t find a single armed response number on my phone that was working. I was shaking like a leaf, trying to keep Mila calm and battling to get through my contacts to try another number. Costa had put a panic button in our room two nights before, but I couldn’t find it. It took me a minute to think to phone Collette (always my life saver!) who I knew would call the armed response while I tried to figure out what to do.
Costa kept telling them that we don’t have a safe or keep anything valuable in our room – because we don’t – and that he had some cash in the car, and they could take the car. He was so brave and calm and did his best to get them away from the door and us. I managed to throw the car keys off our balcony onto the grass below and shout out that they were there. It worked. They took him down to open the car and give them his wallet and open the garage for them. He was able to start backing away as they were rifling through the car and getting it started. He ran back upstairs, and I let him in the room. Only later do we see on camera that one of the gunmen did start following him, so we were really lucky that he got safely into the bedroom. They were unable to get out of our gate and must’ve known we’d pushed the panic by now, so they fled over the wall. They dragged a neighbour’s dustbin and used it to climb over the wall and went right through the electric fence. You could see they were getting shocked, but they went anyway!
Even though we are having therapy, it still feels a bit surreal. Like a movie that shouldn’t be part of our life. I think we all have those moments that we wish we could undo but we can’t. The only way out is through.
As a family we are all really doing okay and safe. And I am very happy to be back with you and kick off a year that is filled with many Key Steps to be the difference that makes the difference.
The lessons and Key Steps I want to share with you to make your safety a priority:
- Keep all valuables out of sight as much as possible and with you in a safe place at night. The security and police confirmed our thoughts that the intruders were professionals. They probably cased our place for a while and saw us as soft targets with a lot of gain. I used to take everything upstairs but got out of the habit when Mila was born. CARELESS is what you call that!
- Check for abnormalities and, if anything is slightly off, lock yourself in a safe place and call your armed response to do a sweep of the area. If we had done that, they might have caught them red handed. They had been on our property since 10pm and when they got inside the house around 11pm (and realised that there was nothing left to take), they helped themselves to our bananas and a bottle of whiskey and proceeded to have a picnic – that’s the level of brazenness!! They then hid in one of the spare rooms until we woke up. Thank God, they missed me going down… I think they might have fallen asleep because of all the whiskey!Remember that abnormalities could be animals or neighbours acting out of character or just a sixth sense that something doesn’t feel right.
- Be the hardest target in your area and invest in security measures. We had been incident free for as long as we lived in our home, and we are in a boomed area that had been incident free until this December. Our complacency meant that when professionals decided to scope out our area, we were easy targets. Because we had installed a great camera system after incident number one, we knew exactly what happened and how they gained access. The police now have that footage too. We’ve since connected it so movement on camera triggers the alarm, and the system is linked to our mobiles so we can check camera footage if something seems off.We’ve also added spikes on the complex walls – our security admit that they can quite easily be flattened with a brick, but this will trigger the alarm and they are a deterrent. We have also added rings to our electric fence – I honestly had no idea we needed them. It was alarming to see how easily the intruders lifted our electric fence with just a few sticks. The rings deter tampering as any movement of the wires then triggers the alarm.
- Upgrade your alarm every 4 to 5 years (and service it at least every 2 years). Turns out that they had managed to break our beams and jam the alarm. It looked armed to us as we went to bed on 12 December, but it wasn’t. We’ve just upgraded to a state of the art system. Jablotron 100+ is a leader in the market and our installer came highly recommended – we know why, it’s some of the best service we have ever received! Alarms are tech… they date, and criminals learn to work around them. The way you upgrade your phone – make your alarm a priority.
- Test your alarm (including panic buttons) and emergency numbers regularly and have them saved to favourites. The alarm technicians recommended testing the alarm weekly to ensure all beams and sensors are 100% in order. Our armed response recommends that once a month you should phone the control room and let them know that you are testing everything, including all your panic buttons. I now have it as a standing appointment in my diary.
- Make sure your panic buttons are somewhere permanent. They can’t be in a drawer next to the bed as things might get shuffled around – this is what happened to us. They must be fixed so you know exactly what to push when – I hope if – the moment ever arises. As the name suggests… you’ll be in a panic.
- Make sure you are connected to an armed response and community emergency WhatsApp group. At least we had the armed response bit in place and BSG were fast acting and excellent both times round. But we were not on a community group – that would’ve made a big difference and alerted various security teams – and all residents – in the area.
- Be extremely vigilant when entering and exiting your property. Before you enter, check your surroundings to ensure that you haven’t been followed. Make sure your gate closes behind you and no one slips in. Also ensure that your gate is closed before you drive into your garage. You need to be thorough in monitoring who enters and exits your property. You often hear of criminals masquerading as DSTV or fibre technicians and so on.
- Rehearse how you’ll handle emergencies. Include fire, hijacking, and so on. Depending on where you live will depend on the type of emergency you might face. Be prepared for anything and everything just in case. You want to be as calm as possible and able to keep your head in the moment.
- If you do experience a trauma, see a counsellor or therapist. Costa and I have a great therapist who made a plan to see us immediately. The main thing I took from our initial debrief was how well we actually handled everything. I had felt like I was a wreck in the moment but when we played it all back, we protected each other and did the best we could. It ended with us all alive and physically unharmed. We managed to make the best out of the worst situation. My sister is one of the best therapists around and specialises in working with children. Her advice has been invaluable in me supporting Mila through this trauma.
Please be wide awake and vigilant. Learn from our many mistakes. As inflation increases so too does crime all over the world. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Please let me know if you think there is anything I have missed and any additional Key Steps we should be taking to… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.
Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.
Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.
Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’