A 21-year-old student in South Africa was raped, stabbed and strangled to death after four men carjacked her and a male friend, police said.
Hannah Cornelius was murdered in Stellenbosch, South Africa on May 27 after the group of men kidnapped, raped and stabbed her, leaving her bloody body for dead close to her school.
Police have apprehended four male suspects who have been charged in the case and are awaiting trial.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cornelius & a Friend Were Allegedly Carjacked & Beaten With Bricks
Cornelius and her friend Cheslin Marsh were sitting in Cornelius’ blue Citi Golf that was gifted by her grandmother at around 1 a.m. on May 27. Suddenly, the pair were approached by four men, who attempted to carjack them.
The men entered the vehicle and threw Marsh into the trunk of the car while Cornelius was forced to sit in the backseat. Their belongings were stolen by the men and they were transported to an undisclosed location where the violent incident came to a head. There, they were beaten by the men with bricks and Cornelius was allegedly raped, stabbed and strangled to death. Marsh was able to flee his captors, while Cornelius was left for dead.
Cornelius’ body was found close to a farm in Stellenbosch.
2. A Couple Helped Save Marsh’s Life Unknowingly
Times Live reported that a couple by the names of Averal and Margaret Fortuin exited their home in Barnardino Heights to see what was causing the noise outside. When Averal walked outside, he saw Marsh pinned to the gate of their home drenched in blood.
Unsure of what was going on, Margaret told him to leave, but Marsh pleaded for assistance, saying that “they were going to kill him.”
Marsh apparently escaped the captors by scaling and jumping over a wall that led to the front yard of the Fortuins’ home. Averal went to the gate to open it for Marsh, and a police van happened to drive by at the time. He flagged it down and officers rushed Marsh to a nearby medical facility.
“He was disorientated,” the husband told the South African publication. “You could see the blood on his face and neck and his face was swollen. The rugby jersey and jeans he was wearing were also covered in blood.”
They didn’t find out that Marsh was the victim in the carjacking case until police responded to their home for interviews.
“We thought it was another intruder because we’re used to guys walking up down (our street) and being in gang fights,” Averal said. “We didn’t know what the story was and if this was just a fight between drunken people.
“Our immediate reaction was to tell him to jump back over the wall and leave. We wanted him to go (away). But he kept stating that he couldn’t leave because ‘they’ were going to kill him. He asked if he couldn’t just tell his story and whether he could phone his mother. He was speaking in quick succession.”
Marsh is recovering at the hospital after suffering multiple head injuries and a broken arm.
3. Police Apprehended the Suspects the Next Day
Police arrested three of the suspects in the following days and arrested a fourth May 29.
Two of the suspects have been identified as Vernon Junald Witbooi and Geraldo Parsons, while a third is named Frederik van Wyk.
Two of the suspects were arrested May 27 after a high-speed chase ensued in Cornelius’ vehicle. Watch the dramatic video of the suspects running away from authorities below:
The men face charges of rape, murder, attempted murder and hijacking.
4. Cornelius Was a Student at the University of Stellenbosch & Spent Time Volunteering
Stellenbosch University is a public research school that’s the oldest in South Africa alongside University of Cape Town.
After Cornelius’ murder, students were left shaken and “filled with fear,” IOL.com reported.
“We, as students of Stellenbosch University and residents of this community, are horrified, disgusted and appalled,” student Luke Waltham said to the news outlet. “A massive concern that we, as young leaders, have is that there are many double standards with regards to security and police on Stellenbosch campus and around town.”
Other students said that many times they feared to walk outside at night for fear of being mugged or physically harmed.
On May 30, many students gathered outside of the court house carrying messages imploring the school to up its security to prevent incidents like Cornelius’ murder.
Cornelius was in her second year at the school and was a humanities student. She was noted as being an “exceptional pianist” and excelled at school.
In addition to Cornelius studying at the school, she spent time volunteering with a local cause, namely TEARS Animal Rescue.
5. Her Family Was Understandably In Disbelief
The murder of Cornelius has left her grieve-stricken family heartbroken.
Her uncle, Dries Cornelius, told Times Live that her parents were left “devastated.” She had an 18-year-old brother who suffers from severe autism, who Dries said is unaware as to his sisters’ whereabouts, and it will probably stay that way forever.
“I assume he will never know about this,” he said to the publication. “You can tell him what happened but he will never stop asking when she’s coming back.”
Dries added that the family is struggling to find a motive for the loss of his 21-year-old niece.
“Why? What is the reason behind killing her if you already have the car? I mean if they took the friend and seemingly also tried to kill him… it seems they just wanted to kill,” he said to Times Live. “It’s inexplicable; flippin’ animals. I just hope that they caught the guys who killed her so we don’t wait another 10 years and hope the police find them.”
A funeral service will be held for Cornelius at Fish Hoek NG Church on June 2.