A New Brighton family is reeling in shock after their seven-year old daughter mysteriously disappeared with an unknown man on Saturday night, sparking fears among the community over the safety of their children.
Sonia Payi is believed to have been snatched by an unknown man while she was walking to a spaza shop with a six-year-old child at about 7pm.
Family members say the girls, who were at home with Sonia’s grandmother Regina Payi, decided to sneak out to buy chips.
The younger child said they were close to the shop when a man dressed in black approached them and asked for Sonia to accompany him.
He gave the six-year-old 50 cents, told her to buy sweets and walked away with Sonia. The other child went to the shop.
Sonia, a Grade 2 pupil at Bhongweni Primary School, was last seen wearing purple tracksuit pants, a black-hooded denim jacket and red sneakers.
The grandmother said she had not realised the pair had left the house and was only alerted to it when the six-year-old rushed in shouting: “Makhulu, Nana has been taken by a man.”
Payi said: “I panicked and rushed outside asking my neighbours to help.”
That kicked off a neighbourhood search, with community members blowing whistles to alert residents of the incident.
Shortly after the kidnapping was reported to police, a large contingent of police and residents gathered to search the surrounding streets.
The specialist police Search and Rescue K9 unit was called in and searched a nearby cemetery and various alleyways.
The police helicopter was also dispatched to assist yesterday morning.
Payi said: “One of our neighbours said he saw them but because Sonia was not crying he did not think to stop and ask them.
“This is all mysterious. Sonia is not a child that warms up easily to strangers.
“We don’t understand how this happened.”
A tearful Bongiwe Payi, Sonia’s mother, said she had been at her boyfriend’s house when she had received a call that her daughter was missing.
“My spirit is broken. She is my only child,” the mother said.
“I don’t know what to think. I keep hoping to see her walk through the door.
“I am praying and appealing to the community to help find my daughter,” Bongiwe said, before she burst into tears.
“I don’t know anyone who could do such a thing.
“The way she was taken sounds as if she knew this person,” Bongiwe said as she clutched her daughter’s jersey.
When The Herald visited the home in New Brighton, a group of women were comforting the family.
One neighbour, Gladys Harmans, who had been with the family since the news broke, said: “It is the first time this has happened. Children usually play outside even when it’s late.
“We are shocked and we are worried about their safety,” Harmans said. Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said the community was extremely angry and saddened.
“I am very angry that now we have to lock our children inside our homes because of criminals,” the neighbour said.
The police have appealed to residents to be on the lookout for Sonia.
Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said: “We are very concerned about this incident and have search parties out looking for her as we talk.
“Our detective team has also been beefed up and more resources brought in from the cluster office to assist.
“Efforts are under way to locate her and various leads are being followed up.”
Beetge said a description of Sonia had been circulated to all surrounding police stations and operational officials.
By late last night, police were still searching for her.