"I THOUGHT I was going to die and didn’t know what to do. It was very scary and I really thought that was the end of it.”
That is how a 15-year-old Nelson Mandela Bay schoolgirl described her alleged abduction from a busy food court at The Bridge mall at midday yesterday by a 31-year-old Nigerian man.
The girl, who was walking through the shopping complex on her own, said she was approached by the man, who claimed to be looking for an Absa bank.
"I saw him standing at the entrance when I walked into the centre. He followed me and when I got to the food court, he asked me to take him to the bank,” the girl – who cannot be named because she is a minor – said.
"I refused and he grabbed my arm and walked me out of the centre. People were looking at us, but I was just too scared to scream or call for help.” Once in the car park she was forced into a bakkie, she said.
"He then drove to the Absa bank [in Newton Park]. While I was in the car he said he would buy me whatever I wanted. He kept touching me, saying that he would buy me shoes and clothes. All that went through my head was that I was going to die and never see my parents again.”
As the alleged abductor stopped outside the Nobili Street bank, the frightened teenager pleaded with him to leave her in the car.
"I wanted to try to run away, but he wouldn’t let me sit alone in the car. When we got into the bank I tried to stay near the doors and when he was sidetracked with the teller, I managed to run outside and into a shop around the corner.
"The woman in the shop then hid me away and called the police.”
Flying squad Warrant Officer Gerhard van der Merwe, who arrested the man, arrived moments after receiving the distress call from the emergency call centre.
"We had a description of the man and spotted him pacing up and down in the street looking for the girl. When we confronted him he claimed he was giving her a lift to Motherwell. The girl, however, said she was forcibly taken from the shopping centre and then fondled inside the car,” Van der Merwe said.
The girl’s father, a police officer in the forensic unit in North End, said yesterday he was grateful his daughter was safe.
"When they phoned me saying they had her at the police station, my heart sank. This is the second such incident in which she has been targeted. In 2009 she was almost raped. I am very thankful to the police officers who responded so quickly to her cries for help,” he said.
Former Port Elizabeth detective and human trafficking specialist Marcelle van der Watt said the case could possibly be linked to human trafficking.
"I cannot say if it is definitely tied to human trafficking, but some of the elements are present. In my five years of working with similar cases in Port Elizabeth, I can think of about five or six similar incidents and abductions,” she said.
"Forced abduction is, however, in the minority of the cases, especially in busy shopping centres. Traffickers usually use more discreet methods.”
The man, who cannot be named until charged in court, was arrested for abduction and sexual assault and is due to appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court tomorrow.
The Bridge spokeswoman Sonica van der Meulen said the centre was checking its CCTV footage but by late last night had found no footage of either the man or the girl in the centre.