Tharina Human, 27, is a South African primary school teacher accused in the September 2 kidnapping of her student, six-year-old Amy’Leigh de Jager. Human and her alleged accomplices are accused of demanding R2 million ($136,400) ransom and allegedly conceived the plot to pay off a drug debt. The little girl was found unharmed 19 hours later.
The crime occurred around 7:40 a.m., when Angeline de Jager was walking her five-year-old son Jayden, and daughter, Amy’Leigh, from their car to the Laershool Kollegepark primary school near Johannesburg. As they headed up to the school’s front gate, four masked men jumped out of a white Toyota Fortuner 4×4, pushed Angeline and Jayden aside, and snatched Amy’Leigh from her mother’s arms.
Police have released photos of the area where Amy’Leigh was held hostage. An unidentified investigator said the little girl was kept in “appalling conditions,” and described the room as dark, dirty and “almost like a dungeon.”
Amy’Leigh was found just after 2:30 a.m. on September 3 by Hendrik Brandt, 25, and Savannah Kriel, 22, as the couple walked home from a pub. Brandt and Kriel spotted Amy’Leigh wandering alone on Heroult Street in Vanderbijlpark, a notoriously dangerous area. The two recalled hearing that a little girl had been kidnapped. Once they realized the little girl was Amy’Leigh, they carried her by piggyback to the nearest police station. By luck, her parents were inside speaking with police about the case.
Human and two alleged co-conspirators, Laetitia Nel, 40, and Pieter Jacobus van Zyl, 50, were arrested just before midnight on September 4. Human, Nel, and Zyl were formally charged with kidnapping on September 9 and their bail hearing is set for September 19. The four men who carried out the abduction remain at large.
“I applaud the unwavering commitment shown by the investigators and members of Crime Intelligence in this case”, said National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole told News24.
“These members have worked around the clock ever since Amy’Leigh’s kidnapping was reported to us and such dedication is very encouraging,” he added.
Here’s what you need to know about Tharine Human.
1. Tharina Human & Angeline de Jager were close Friends
Human was described by one source who knows both women as a “trusted and loyal” friend to Angeline de Jager. The two were frequently photographed together and would make humorous comments back and forth on Facebook. Human and de Jager often called each other “heksie,” or “witch” in Afrikaans, a probable reference to a popular children’s story character.
In addition to teaching Amy’Leigh, Tharina Human had also been Jayden’s teacher. After the kidnapping, Human was seen comforting Angeline outside the school and promised her distraught friend she’d keep Jayden safe.
Once Amy’Leigh was safely returned to her parents, Angeline messaged a friend in disbelief, “Can you believe she would do something like this to my child?” In the courtroom, Angeline began sobbing on her husband’s shoulder when former friend Angeline appeared.
Everyone was shocked to discover that someone so close to the family had plotted the abduction. “I am very relieved arrests were made,” Angeline’s father Martin Brouwer said. “Unfortunately, the people arrested, you would never think that they would do something like this.”
2. Amy’Leigh’s Father is a Famous F1 Boat Racer
Wynand de Jager is known throughout South Africa as a Formula 1 powerboat racer. His LinkedIn page notes that he builds speedboats in addition to racing.
De Jager is also the son of two famous South African powerboat racing champions, Elzane and Christo de Jager. Elzane de Jager was a beloved mentor to a team of black South African amateur boat racers. Elzane, who died of cancer in 2011, started racing in 2004. In 2008 she was one of the top three racers and won the South African F1 Grand Prix in 2009.
It’s believed Human came up with the plan hoping to extort money from Wynand de Jager and his father. After Human’s arrest, Christo de Jager shot down rumors appearing on social media that daughter-in-law Angeline and Human may have plotted the kidnapping together.
In an open letter sent to a South African newspaper, Amy’Leigh’s grandfather wrote that the rumors were “based on assumptions and pure stupidity” and were “aimed at destroying families and the life of the very same child that they so intensely prayed for.”
3. Tharina Human’s Father Said His Daughter Masterminded the Kidnapping to Pay off Druglords
Riaan Botha told a family member that his daughter had been using narcotics and that the kidnapping of Amy’Leigh was devised to pay off debts to drug lords. Botha sent the message immediately after Human’s arrest to prepare relatives once her involvement was made public.
“I just wanted to tell you, so that you don’t hear it from someone else – the mastermind behind the kidnapping of that little girl (Amy’Leigh) was my child. She organised the entire thing with the others, but she was the mastermind.”
“They locked them up [on Wednesday] night. I didn’t know this, but she [uses] narcotics, and she needed money to pay the people (drug dealers). I just wanted to tell you so that you don’t get a shock when you hear that it was my child. So, the news has been broken and now you know. Have a good day.”
Botha broke down in tears as he spoke to the media outside the courtroom on September 9. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart. It was out of [the family’s] control. We apologize.”
4. Tharina Human Feigned Concern by Asking her Students’ Parents to Pray for Amy’Leigh
After the kidnapping, Human sent her students’ parents voice messages through WhatsApp to update them. She said she was “as shocked” as they were and asked all of them to pray for Amy’Leigh’s return. Human also wanted to take up a collection for flowers and a hamper (gift basket) for the de Jager family.
“All we can do now is pray that she is safe, wherever and whatever. I promise you I am guarding your children with my life.” Human said, adding, “I’ll kill someone hey – I’m just as stressed as you are. We ask the Lord protects Amy-Leigh. What has happened is terrible. You can’t imagine it.”
“There are sicko’s out there – you can’t take chances these days,” she warned.
5. The Kidnappers Lowered Their Ransom Several Times Before Releasing Amy’Leigh de Jager
While Amy’Leigh de Jager was kept confined, her kidnappers repeatedly contacted her family demanding her ransom. At first, they wanted $136,400, dropped the demand to $682, then finally $400 for themselves and to cover transportation costs.
According to a hostage negotiator, no ransom was paid. It’s believed the kidnappers kept lowering the ransom and eventually released Amy’Leigh when they realized the high-profile case was being covered on every television channel, in all the newspapers, and on social media. Police who arrested Human and her accomplices found the trio had packed their suitcases and appeared getting ready to leave the area.