She was a “superhero”.

Nothing could prepare Detective Warrant Officer Delene Grobler-Koonin’s family for March 5, the day she didn’t return home from work.

“She optimised the true meaning of what a superhero is. She was courageous and always willing to go the extra mile for other people. She took her oath very seriously and was willing to die for her country — and that is exactly what happened,” her widow, Dr Marla Koonin, told Times Select.

Grobler-Koonin was shot in the head by armed robbers while responding to a cash-in-transit heist in Mahikeng in the North West. She died at the scene.

“That one bullet ripped our family apart. I became a single parent instantly. No one is ever prepared for such,” Koonin said.

Grobler-Koonin was attached to the Hawks. Before joining the unit she worked, for more than a decade, in the family violence, child protection and sexual offences division.

“She worked on a lot of landmark cases and did a lot of work for children and women. She was a true champion of children and women,” said Koonin.

Grobler-Koonin is one of 40 officers killed in the line of duty between April 1 last year and 31 March this year. They were honoured on Sunday at the annual SA Police Service commemoration day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

“Sunday made it too final. The event was oxymoronic. On the one hand, I felt some sense of pride that her name will always be there for everyone to see and it felt like a huge honour, but I also felt a great sense of loss,” she said.

“I ask myself if [criminals] ever stop and think they could be denying a child a chance to grow up with their parent? Do they ever think of the consequences of their actions? That they are taking away loved ones from their families,” she said.

Adding to Koonin’s pain was the death of Warrant Officer Wynand Herbst, 41, who worked with Grobler-Koonin. “He was shot on the same day Delene was killed and he died in hospital. They were shot by robbers while they were trying to get justice for Delene,” she said. Herbst was also honoured on Sunday.

“Losing someone who worked with her closely was also very hurtful,” she said.

Koonin said six months after losing her wife she was still trying to adjust to raising their four-year-old son, Jake Marcus Koonin, as a single parent.

“It’s very difficult. Delene played a massive part in our lives. She was a family person, we did everything together and now she is no longer here,” she said.

Herbst’s widow, Veronica, said her biggest fear had always been receiving “that” phone call. Her husband was part of an operation tasked with finding the heist suspects who killed Grobler-Koonin. He was hit during a shoot-out with the suspects at a service station in Coligny, almost 100km from where Grobler-Koonin was killed.

She said she prayed every day that he would return home safe.

Having to break the news to their two sons, aged 11 and 15, was extremely hard.

“I just didn’t know how to break the sad news to them, but I had to do it. When I eventually gathered the strength to tell them, they had so many questions that I didn’t have answers for. They wanted to know why their father was shot, how he was shot and all those kinds of questions that I couldn’t answer,” said Herbst, who was unable to describe her loss.

Her husband, who was in the police service for 21 years, started as a security guard at the national police office. At the time of his death, he had just been promoted from sergeant to warrant officer.

“Those criminals took away everything from us. We are no longer happy as a family, we are incomplete,” said an emotional Herbst.