Joe Van Holsbeeck
Joe Van Holsbeeck was a 17-year-old Belgian teenager who was murdered on April 12, 2006 at Brussels Central train station. This murder, following the attempted theft of an MP3 player, took place at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon, during rush hour. Although petty theft is not uncommon, and even violent robberies are not unheard of in Belgium, Van Holsbeeck's murder in a crowded train station during the daytime shocked many Belgians at the time. The two perpetrators, who were later arrested, turned out to be Romani juveniles.
The murder took place around 16:30 hours (4:30 p.m.) on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 in the crowded main hall of Brussels Central railway station. Joe Van Holsbeeck, a 17-year-old Belgian high school student, and one of his friends were approached by two youths of about the same age. According to reports, the assailants at first asked for directions, but suddenly tried to take off with the victim's MP3 player. When Joe Van Holsbeeck resisted non-violently, he was stabbed five times by one of the two. Van Holsbeeck was then taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries a couple of hours later. Two suspected assailants fled the station. Initially, Belgian media erroneously reported them as being of Moroccan descent. They were arrested some two weeks later and identified as Polish citizens.
As the murder took place during rush hour in one of Brussels' busiest places, a major commuter train station serving the downtown core area, there were hundreds of people present at the station. However, nobody intervened to prevent the crime or to intercept the suspects. Police ultimately interviewed thousands of commuters at Central station over the next day in the hope of obtaining more clues as to the identity of the perpetrators.
Both suspects (plus, perhaps, the murderer's 24-year-old elder brother) had been recorded on very clear CCTV footage in front on the Central Station. One week after the murder, on April 19, the Brussels police issued a description and a police artist's drawing (identikit) of the two principal suspects as well as some CCTV footage taken by the station's security cameras. According to news website HLN.be, this delay was due to the police not wanting to aggravate pre-existing racial tensions or cause a witch-hunt against the North African community (to which the suspects were first believed to belong), although this was not confirmed by the state prosecutor's office.
The quality of the NMBS/SNCB security cameras that taped the murder has also been a source of discussion. According to some investigators, the quality of the images was too poor to be helpful. However, Belgian authorities denied this claim. In addition, CCTV cameras filmed the two suspects at a subway station following the murder. Those pictures were of excellent quality but were not released. CCTV footage from other sources was also released. These images were of a higher quality than the previous ones and police hoped that they would generate new tips from the general public.
One of the perpetrators, a 16½-year-old Pole was arrested (presumably on April 25, 2006 or the day before). He was identified by his secondary school teachers. The other alleged perpetrator, also from Poland, fled Belgium. The 17-year-old youth, the alleged murderer, was arrested in Suwałki, Poland, on April 27. According to the VRT, both suspects were of Romani descent, which might explain why they had been thought to be of North African descent. The murderer, Adam G. was extradited in 2007. In September 2008, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Belgian authorities intended to have him serve at least half of his sentence in Poland, thus ensuring that he would have to serve at the very least 10 years because Polish criminal law demands that a convicted criminal must serve at least half of his sentence. whereas under Belgian criminal law only one third of the sentence needs to be served.
The rarity and brutality of the murder and the perceived long wait for any arrests produced a public outcry and reactions from a variety of public figures. Four days after the murder, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt contacted the family of the victim by letter, as did the royal family more than a week later.
The erroneous belief that the perpetrators were North Africans affected most of the reactions before the eventual arrest, with Fouad Ahidar (nl), a Belgian Parliament deputy of North African ancestry, calling upon the immigrant community to help in the search for the culprits. Family members and friends of the victim specifically asked that the murder should not be used as propaganda by political parties. Many expressed concerns that the murder would increase support for the right (far right according to opponents) wing Vlaams Belang party.
Many Belgians took flowers to the site of the crime and an online petition was set up to commemorate Joe by having MSN users choose a flower as their screen symbol. There was also a petition on the Internet in Van Holsbeeck's memory asking for "more security in public places and transports" and to "re-establish a dialog with marginal young delinquents". A demonstration organised by immigrant organisations for April 19 had very little participation.
Joe Van Holsbeeck was buried in private on April 20 in a catholic prayer service without Mass. According to the VRT, in order to better accommodate the many attending immigrants, the family opted for a "prayer service instead of a traditional Roman Catholic service".
A silent non-partisan march through Brussels took place on Sunday April 23 with an estimated 80,000 participants. The Belgian Muslim Executive Council (an official Islamic organisation in Belgium) refused to join the Union of Brussels Mosque Associations in calling for the perpetrators to turn themselves in. According to a spokesman, "So long as the perpetrators have not been identified, we see little use in making a statement. [...] The mere fact that the perpetrators look like Arabs does not mean that they are Muslims. Our role is to support the mourning family. [The council] will be sending a letter of condolences to Joe's parents in the coming days." According to the VRT website, an Antwerp imam said: "The people who know who the killers are, should not remain silent about it and reveal their identity".
References to VRT programs are available at http://www.een.be/televisie1_master/vragen/e_vragen_kopieen/index.shtml.
- (Dutch) HLN.be, Tiener in Brussel-Centraal doodgestoken voor MP3-speler, April 13, 2006.
- (French) vrtnieuws.be, La police recherche les meurtriers de Joe, 14 April 2006
- (Dutch) vrtnieuws.net, Tips over roofmoord in station stromen toe, April 19, 2006.
- vrtnieuws.net, Police release footage of killers, April 19, 2006.
- (Dutch) HLN.be, Gerecht geeft vandaag beelden roofmoord vrij, April 18, 2006.
- (Dutch) vrtnieuws.net, "Beelden zijn wel bruikbaar", zegt parket, April 16, 2006.
- vrtnieuws.net, New CCTV footage released, April 21, 2006.
- (French) Le Soir, (first) Un agresseur de Joe serait arrêté, (then) Un agresseur de Joe a été interpellé, (then) Un agresseur sous mandat d'arrêt, April 25, 2006, retrieved April 27, 2012
- vrtnieuws.net, Police arrest mp3 murder suspect, April 27, 2006.
- (Dutch) HLN.be, Familie van vermoorde Joe wil geen politieke manifestaties, April 15, 2006.
- David Rennie, Murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck, telegraph.co.uk, weblog, April 20, 2006
- (Dutch) vrtnieuws.net, "Waar waren wij woensdag om 16 uur?", April 16, 2006.
- (Dutch) HLN.be, Eerbetoon op internet voor doodgestoken jongen in Brussel-Centraal, April 14, 2006.
- http://www.esamuse.com/pourjoe/ Petition, Broken hearts for an mp3, For Joe's memory, 17, murdered for an mp3... retrieved on April 24, 2006
- Het journaal (19h), VRT, April 19, 2006
- vrtnieuws.net, Funeral of Joe Van Holsbeeck in Haren, April 20, 2006.
- Associated Press, Belgians protest fatal MP3 robbery, April 23, 2006
- vrtnieuws.net, Brussels is gearing up for silent march, April 23, 2006.
- (French) Le Soir, Une marche pour Joe, April 23, 2006
- (Dutch) hln.be, Moslimexecutieve roept daders niet op zich over te geven, April 21, 2006.
- vrtnieuws.net, Brussels Imams launch an appeal, April 21, 2006.
- 'Murder Shocks Brussels While PM and Cardinal Blame Victims', The Brussels Journal, April 19, 2006
- 'Belgium needs more personal social responsibility', Al Ahram Weekly, May 1, 2006