07/06/2018 12:40 SAST | Updated 07/06/2018 12:40 SAST

Psychologist: 'Don't Prejudge Ennerdale Killing – None Of Us Were There'

A psychologist and lecturer says we can't jump to conclusions without analysing the mental state of the Ennerdale father at the time he allegedly shot his son.

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Speculation has been rife in print, broadcast and social media since Tuesday night's shooting of a 16-year-old Ennerdale schoolboy by his father, as reported yesterday by News 24.

However, a mental health expert has warned against jumping to conclusions, saying that to understand how a father might have shot his son, allegedly by mistake, would require an analysis of the father's thought process at the time, trying to ascertain what may have caused his behaviour.

That's the view of psychologist and lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Nondumiso Mphambo.

She spoke to HuffPost after the news broke that the man had shot and killed his teen son — apparently accidentally, after mistaking him for a hijacker — at the boy's school in Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg.

According to information in the police docket, the man took his son to school to attend evening classes, reported News24.

"The father dropped the boy and he locked his vehicle and waited inside... he then fell asleep. The boy [later] came back and knocked on the passenger window of his father's vehicle," said SAPS Soweto West cluster spokesperson Captain Mpande Khoza.

"The father, who was asleep in the car with his firearm on him... got scared by the knocking of his son, [and] he pulled out his firearm and shot towards the direction of the person who was knocking.

He then realised that he had shot his son, who died on his way to hospital.

Understanding fear and paranoia

UKZN psychologist Mphambo was careful to stress that she could not offer any opinions related specifically to this case, as she has no more information than we have seen in the media, and could only lay out possibilities in general terms.

"We don't know the full facts of the case and more importantly, psychologically there are a number of reasons that can cause a person to act 'irrationally' or 'out of character'," she stressed.

"You have to ask what would cause a person to be so apprehensive, that his first instinct would be to shoot at the first person who knocks on his car window?"

"If the action was indeed induced by a fear — or even paranoia — of crime, questions I'd be interested to explore are: was the father ever a victim of crime? And what are his feelings towards crime or criminal activity in his community or environment?"

"We must understand, however, that the level of crime has a way of affecting all of us differently individually, depending on our experiences — or simply observations. To protect ourselves and our loved ones, we may invest in anything from a pepper spray to a personal gun."

Mphambo noted, however, that the ownership of a gun may easily cause one more anxiety than a person who doesn't have one. "You are likely to live in a heightened state of anxiety, always highly conscious of potential danger that can happen to you. Then there are thoughts that because you own a gun, either you die, — or you fire first, and the attacker does."

Other factors may be relevant

"What was happening in his life, what was happening in his family, was he suffering from any mental health condition? To detail that may seem as minor as 'was he intoxicated or not at the time?'"

"In psychology in this case, we'd have to consider all these factors and assess the father's past experiences and present thought processes, because they have a huge bearing on how a person deals with current situations.

"And until we fully get that picture, it would be hard to say what caused the action, at least from a psychological standpoint," said Mphambo. She said caution must be applied by observers judging the situation, because "none of us were there".

Social media reaction

Social media reaction has shown no such reticence, with most commentators finding the father's story fishy, and a minority defending him — but both sides making judgments as if they were there.

The bereaved father is due in court on Thursday.