JOHANNESBURG — A South African girl who survived a criminal attack that shocked the nation was among those killed when a train hit a school van this week, a family spokesman said Friday.
Liesel Augis was only six years old when she was raped, beaten unconscious with a brick and thrown into a fire by a family friend in 2006. She survived and became known as "Little Rock" because of her strength and resilience.
On Wednesday, Liesel's van driver went around a closed railroad crossing gate and the van was hit by a train. Nine children died at the scene in Cape Town, and a 10th died Friday. Only the driver and four children survived.
Family spokesman Malvern de Bruyn said that Liesel had a zest for life, and the accident has left a deep scar in the family and the nation.
"We could see she was someone who wanted to defy anything that would cut her life," de Bruyn said.
Liesel's 2006 attacker, Abraham James, was sentenced to 28 years in jail without parole.
Her attack was one of many that took place between 2000 and 2006 by several assailants at a stretch of open land in a suburb of Cape Town now known as "Bushes of Devil."
The family's plight did not end with her attack. Days after James' arrest, unknown people tried to set fire to Liesel's home. De Bruyn said he had to find a refuge for them in the same area.
After the attack, Liesel started school at the Good Hope Primary School in Kuilsrivier, a suburb of Cape Town. She had to conceal her name and the incident from her schoolmates, de Bruyn said.
"We could not divulge her real name; only the school principal knew the name," de Bruyn said. But "the private school opened their arms to our child and gave all the support she needed."
Even Liesel would not talk about the incident and would only refer to herself as "Little Rock," the name de Bruyn gave her, he said. The pseudonym suppressed her pain and her anger, but allowed her to build friendships without being taunted at school, he said.
De Bruyn derived the name from the 1956 march in which some 20,000 women protested against the introduction of pass books that the apartheid government required them to carry at all times which restricted them to certain areas. The women then chanted, "you struck a rock, you struck a woman."
"I named her 'Little Rock' because she was as tough as a rock like those women who fight against apartheid," he said.
Liesel's problems were compounded by a family that was destitute and lived in a shack, he said.
She was only able to go to school after a trust fund called The Little Rock Foundation was started for her and other child victims of rape. Local academics, non-governmental organizations and the community of Greater Blue Downs in western South Africa contributed to the foundation.
The family that had to deal with the attacks, now has to deal with their little girl's death. Police said they are investigating a case of homicide against the van driver.
Liesel will be buried on Sept. 4 along with nine other victims from Wednesday's crash.