Gun siege ends in heartbreak

14 May 2015 - 02:07 By Farren Collins and Katharine Child

In a desperate bid to prevent their mentally ill brother from dying in a stand-off with police, a Cape Town family begged with officers for mercy yesterday. But the pleas for the life of Michael Volkwyn were to be in vain.The 61-year-old mechanical engineer, whom family described as a recluse, shot himself as officers from the special task force and tactical response team stormed his Athlone home, ending a 16-hour stand-off which left a policeman seriously hurt.Volkwyn's sister, Diana Volkwyn-Williams, said the family knew he would not leave his house alive when he did not answer his phone or respond to attempts to speak with him from outside."We just wanted to say: 'Michael we're here [and] we love you.' And in the end [the police] refused it."We told them about his history with mental illness ... I said to them, you need to tell him he's going to be safe or he's not going to listen, but they wouldn't listen."The stand-off began on Tuesday evening when police were called in to assist the SPCA in removing Volkwyn's 13 dogs after a tenant on the property said they had attacked her.Cape Town municipal by-laws state a household can have up to four dogs, with special permission required if more are wanted.Police spokesman Frederick Van Wyk said when the police arrived at the house the dogs attacked them."Shots went off simultaneously from inside the house. One hit a policeman in the cheek. He was taken to hospital where he underwent surgery."Retreating to safety as Volkwyn barricaded himself inside his home, police called reinforcements and closed the Hazendal street. Members of a hostage negotiating team spent the night trying to talk Volkwyn into surrendering.He refused to budge, and as crowds of curious onlookers gathered, heavily armed members of the special task force and the tactical response team stormed the home yesterday morning."We turned off the electricity and penetrated the house," said Van Wyk."As we penetrated the house shots were heard from inside the house, and on entering the house, we found [the man] had shot himself and was lying on the floor. Paramedics were called in to try to resuscitate him but he was declared dead on the scene."Van Wyk confirmed that Volkwyn - whose father, Isaac Volkwyn, was the first coloured lawyer in the Western Cape - died from a gunshot wound to the head.Neighbourhood residents said he had begun to "change" after the suicide of his girlfriend nearly 40 years ago.A neighbour, asking to remain anonymous, said the evening was traumatic. "It was like a war movie," she said, describing how she lay on the couch in the dark all night listening to the hostage negotiations as snipers took up position on her roof."It was such a horrible experience. The police didn't explain anything. They just said they needed to use our yard and told us to switch our lights off."She said police had shot one of Volkwyn's dogs.Although they had lived in their house for only eight months, her family had never known Volkwyn to be violent. "People are saying such bag things about the guy, but he just kept to himself. He was quiet."She said he did not like people standing in front of or near his house, but was never violent or threatening.He regularly walked his dogs, which he "loved"."He fed stray dogs too."Volkwyn was in trouble with the law 10 years ago when he used a crossbow to threaten the mother of former South African cricketer Herschelle Gibbs.

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