Slain Jewish police officer remembered as a superhero

  • Funeral
“It’s harrowing being married to a police officer in a lawless society where the police are outgunned.”
by NICOLA MILTZ | Mar 12, 2020

This from the wife of slain Jewish police officer Delene Grobler-Koonin, 44, who was shot and killed in the line of duty last week.

“We are at war, and every day when they put on that badge, we don’t know if they are coming home,” said Marla Koonin, who this week buried her wife and “soul hero” of eight years.

Detective Warrant Officer Delene, who converted to Judaism, never made it home last Thursday, 5 March. She died in a hail of bullets during a botched cash-in-transit heist in Mahikeng in North West Province, sustaining a fatal gunshot wound to the head. Her necklace with a Magen David (Star of David), “which she never took off”, was still in perfect condition after the shooting, a distraught Marla told the SA Jewish Report.

Dozens of law-enforcement officers, civic leaders, and others gathered solemnly at West Park Cemetery on Wednesday morning to mourn her passing.

Members of the elite Hawks unit broke down and sobbed as they shovelled sand onto their slain colleague’s coffin, firmly embracing each other afterwards.

A highly decorated detective, she was laid to rest following an official police funeral attended by countless uniformed officers who came to pay their last respects.

A special place was reserved for Delene in the leadership section of the cemetery alongside notable figures who have given of themselves selflessly to the community.

During the lengthy and emotional ceremony, mourners recalled in tearful detail how Delene devoted her life to justice and the fight against woman and child abuse.

“Her work to combat the exploitation of women and children was a passion that was evident in all she did, and she was a true hero both in life and in the way she died,” said Marla in her moving eulogy which was read by close family friend, Madeleine Hicklin, a member of parliament for the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Marla described Delene as a “kind, caring, and compassionate person” who could empathise with other people’s circumstances, qualities which made her an excellent detective.

She was described as “a hero to countless battered and bruised souls” and was “their pillar of strength and beacon in the darkness”.

Tragically, after a massive police manhunt was launched for the suspects, another shoot-out ensued later the same day, fatally injuring her partner, Warrant Officer Wynand Herbst, 42, affectionately referred to as Delene’s “work husband”. Only two weeks ago, Marla had told him how grateful she was that he “always had Delene’s back”.

“He told me that not only did he have her back, he would step in front of a bullet for her,” which is what he did, paying the ultimate price,” she said.

“It was the worst day of my life when I received that horrendous call. My life shattered along with Delene’s body,” said Marla.

The couple, who both grew up in different parts of the West Rand, met in 2007 at a touch rugby tournament. They were married under a chuppah in December 2012 on the top of Linksfield Ridge in Johannesburg.

They have a four-year-old son, Jake Marcus, who poignantly bears a striking resemblance to Delene.

“Delene was a born mother, and although biologically born to me, there is not one person who meets Jake that does not see Delene’s soul shining right through – he is her mirror image. One of her proudest moments was his birth and bris,” said Marla.

“When Jake’s soul chose ours as parents, he knew he would have his work cut out for him because he would always be the son of a superhero,” she said.

The family said this week it was “humbled” by the hundreds of tributes which continue to pour in.

According to one tribute, “She leaves behind a legacy of bravery, service, and sacrifice, and for that she will continue to live in the hearts and memories of every person she helped forever.”

“How many people can truly say they left the world a better place?” asked Marla.

The majority of Delene’s service was in the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS). She was involved in high-profile pornography and child-abuse cases, including the Bob Hewitt case amongst many others.

She was promoted to the Hawks Technical Operations Management Section of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation unit last year, and was the only female in her unit.

“I had an innate fear when Delene left FCS and joined the Hawks in a tactical unit,” said Marla, who has a PhD in communications and is an executive at The Da Vinci Institute School of Business Leadership.

The hardest thing she faced was telling their little boy.

“I told him that ‘Meme’ didn’t want to leave us, but Hashem needed her. I said she is in a place we cannot see, but it’s a good place, and she is happy but she can’t ever come home again. She will live in our hearts, he can always speak to her, and she will always watch over him.”

Rabbi Julia Margolis of Beit Luria Shul officiated at Wednesday’s funeral. She told the SA Jewish Report that Delene had devoted her life to protecting children.

“It was her calling. This was her passion. She fought for children’s rights,” she said.

“I met Delene when she was studying to convert to Judaism with Rabbi Robert Jacobs. I also had the privilege of teaching her. I attended her Beth Din exam, which Delene was very nervous about, but she passed it with flying colours. I did her mikveh (ritual immersion), and we became friendly. Delene had tears of joy when she passed her conversion. I was moved by her sincerity.”

Hicklin said her world was shattered when she heard the news.

“This is beyond a loss. Delene was a shining light. She was a mensch among menschen. She was an absolute gem of a person who would give the shirt off her back to anybody who needed it. Her life’s work was keeping women and children safe,” she said.

“I lost the sister I never had. That’s how keenly I’m feeling her loss.”

The South African Police Service held a memorial service for Delene and Herbst on Tuesday at the Tshwane Police Academy.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Alf Weinberg 13 Mar
    It is with deep sorrow reading about the killing of another brave police officer Delene, who in her lifetime did so much good to uphold the law, against all odds.
    I wish the family Long Life.
    Alf Weinberg Lt. Col. (retired) SAPreserve


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