I Was Held at Gunpoint in My Own Home - OZY | A Modern Media Company

I Was Held at Gunpoint in My Own Home

I Was Held at Gunpoint in My Own Home

By Tamara Oberholster


Guns don’t kill people. Guys with guns kill people.

By Tamara Oberholster

It started as a pleasant evening. Although my husband was away for work, my dad was in Johannesburg on business and staying with me for the night. We had dinner together, chatting about family, work — the usual. It had been a good day.

I live in what’s known in South Africa as a security complex — a residential development with controlled access and security fencing. Most homes in my neighborhood, whether small apartments or large houses, are in similar developments.

When it was time for bed, I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. so I could say goodbye to my dad before he left for the gym.

I woke when my bedroom door was flung open and the light was flicked on. In the split second before I sat up, I thought, “Did I oversleep?” Then, “How rude of my dad!”

But it wasn’t him — it was a man wearing a mask, pointing a gun at me.

I screamed.

Thoughts rushed straight to horror. “Was my dad OK?” Followed by: “Will this man rape me? Will he make my dad watch?”

The man gestured for me to be quiet. I remember weighing my options: Should I scream again to wake the neighbors? Was it worth potentially being shot?

We only want money and jewelry. If you cooperate, you will not be hurt. If you listen, nobody will get killed tonight.

He instructed me to get up and walked me at gunpoint to the guest room. It was the first time I’d seen a gun up close in real life. And it was pointed at me. It looked bigger than I’d expected, and heavier.

There was another man with a gun in the guest room, pointing it at my dad, who lay facedown on the bed. This man wasn’t wearing a mask, but I got only a glimpse of his face before I was made to lie next to my dad, and a blanket was thrown over our heads. The men tied our hands together and said things like, “We only want money and jewelry. If you cooperate, you will not be hurt. If you listen, nobody will get killed tonight.”


We lay still, listening to them looting the house. They took their time. I could feel my hands were not tied well, but I knew there was nothing I could do, even if I freed them.

I prayed. I prayed they wouldn’t hurt us, and that this experience wouldn’t make my dad more negative about life in South Africa. I wondered where my cats were and how to tell my husband what had happened.

The men seemed to take turns watching us and raiding the house. We could hear them tipping out cupboards and drawers. Occasionally, one would ask me a question. They seemed to understand my dad was visiting.

“Where is the jewelry?”

“On my dresser in the bedroom.”

“Where is the safe?”

“We don’t have a safe.” It didn’t stop them from emptying our cupboards to look for one.

The last question was bizarre. The first man took my wedding band, engagement ring and Fitbit off me and asked, “My sister, where is the charger for this watch?”

I told him and he fetched it.

After about 40 minutes, they tied our legs too, threw another blanket over our heads and one said, “Sleep well!”

I heard them go downstairs, then unlock the front door. When I heard the door close, I untied my hands and helped my dad with his. I couldn’t get my legs loose, so I hopped to my study for scissors.

I grabbed the car keys, ran out the front door, jumped into the car and blew the horn for about two minutes. It was all I could think of to do, seeing they’d taken my phone.

The guard came running from the front gate. “Quickly!” I yelled. “There are two armed men on foot carrying bags who just held us up at gunpoint. They’re still in the complex!”

Thoughts rushed straight to horror. “Was my dad OK?” Followed by: “Will this man rape me? Will he make my dad watch?”

He called the armed response vehicle over the radio, which arrived minutes later. Neighbors came running too. They called the police.

Although I’d sounded the horn within about three minutes of the intruders leaving, they seemingly disappeared into the night.

Apparently, they slipped in under the electric fence around our complex. They made their way through our neighbor’s yard, and the smaller man squeezed through the burglar bars on our patio window, then unlocked the patio door for his larger companion. Unfortunately, they haven’t been caught. The police see hundreds of armed robberies and can’t keep up.

My dad pretends nothing has happened. I talk about “the incident” to anyone who asks, hoping it will help me get it out of my head.

For days afterward, the cats and I took cover whenever someone used the door knocker. Loud noises still startle us. I can’t sleep in the house again on my own yet.

People have responded differently. Someone I don’t know in the complex drove up to my door as I was locking it. He asked me a bunch of questions about the robbery and then mansplained to me what we should’ve done differently to avoid it happening. He didn’t even introduce himself. Asshat.

Another person told me I was lucky because it could’ve been worse. I agreed. She proceeded to tell me a horror story of what had happened to someone she knew, with all the gory details, not understanding that I was imagining it happening to me, in my house. I couldn’t sleep that night.

Generally, though, “my people” have been wonderful. Friends and family have called, messaged, brought dinner, offered me their guest rooms and even spare phones and computers. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s how fortunate I am to have good people in my life. 

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