She used to dream of being a policewoman when she grew up. But now Ashline Telmarks, 5, is traumatised by any loud noise after she was shot while playing in a Cape Flats park.
The very gangsters and drug dealers she dreamt of catching and putting behind bars are believed to be behind the shooting which has left doctors questioning whether she will walk again.
After spending three weeks at Red Cross Children's Hospital after being gunned down on January 24 in Hanover Park, Telmarks was on Tuesday transferred to the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre in Mitchells Plain. She is expected to start physical therapy there next week.
Her mother, Merletha, told News24 that Ashline has gone from being a talkative, bubbly girl to a withdrawn, emotional child.
"She refuses to go back to Hanover Park. She has been confined to a hospital bed for almost a month and the only time she gets out is when I push her around in her wheelchair. She doesn't fully understand what has happened to her, but doesn't want to go back home."
The bullet hit her in the back as she fled when gunmen opened fire in Algoa Court. It exited through her abdomen, causing damage to her spine, a kidney, and her intestines.
While doctors managed to repair some of her internal wounds, Ashline is unable to move one of her legs and is in constant pain.
She relies on medication and frequently bursts into tears when the agony becomes unbearable, her mother explained as she wiped her child's cheeks.
Merletha, 23, barely leaves her daughter's bedside, and has spent every night with her, despite hospital staff insisting she go home and take care of herself.
Her one-year-old baby is living with a friend after she was kicked out of her home following a disagreement with a relative, she explained.
She is separated from her husband, who works part-time at Cape Town harbour.
Merletha had been collecting her children's things from her mother's home when she heard the shots ring out that day.
"Ashline was supposed to be in the bath at that time, not in the park. When I hurried home after the shooting stopped, someone stopped me along the way to say Ashline had been hit. I blamed myself for what happened. She wasn't supposed to be there, and I wasn't with her.
"Last week she spoke about what happened for the first time. She said, 'Mommy, we were playing and they shot me. But don't worry, it's not your fault, so don't cry. And stop biting your nails because it's disgusting'," Merletha laughed with tears in her eyes.
Three months of rehab
Doctors have indicated that Ashline will remain at the rehabilitation centre for at least three months. Her mother will be taught how to care for her as she uses a catheter, because she can't go to the bathroom on her own.
Whether she will walk unaided and attend a mainstream school is unlikely, Merletha said.
"I don't know how I will cope. I am raising my children on my own. But I will find a way."
Before the shooting, Merletha was studying for her security guard grading, which has taken a backseat to her children's wellbeing.
"Ashline cries a lot, but when she is in the wheelchair, she is somewhat okay. When I wheeled her around for the first time at Red Cross, she was so happy that she didn't have to stay in the hospital bed anymore.
"I took her to the hospital park, where one of the children asked her to come and play. But she couldn't, and she was in tears because a girl laughed at her because she couldn't join them. It broke my heart. The park used to be her favourite place."
There is still a lot of life and determination in the Grade R pupil.
"She only wants to wear clothes with her favourite cartoon characters on it and refuses to eat the hospital food."
As far as Merletha knows, no arrests have been made in connection with the shooting.
"A week after it happened, I went to the leader of the Ghetto Kids and told him I wanted to know who had done this to my child. He didn't give me an answer, but told me he would help me with anything she needs," Merletha said with a shake of her head.
"All I need is to know who did this. I want to find out who shot her, and who caused her so much pain that she sometimes pulls her hair out."
Four men are believed to be behind the shooting which took place in the Algoa Court courtyard. The suspects ran away.
No witnesses have contacted her with any information, Merletha said.
Right now, her only concern is Ashline's health.
"This is my struggle and I will deal with it. I am just glad she didn't die and that she is still here, with me."