A young Port Elizabeth schoolboy was severely injured and is now battling with his life when a firecracker exploded in his face after it was offered to him by three young men as a “cigarette” and then lit.

The three brothers from Summerstrand – the sons of a police colonel, all in their 20s – have now been linked to an investigation of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, which could be changed to attempted murder.

Shane Witbooi, 12, a Grade 6 pupil at Rufane Donkin Primary School, in Gelvandale, is in hospital with burns to his face and arms, his eyes swollen shut, and unable to speak or open his eyes.

Hospital staff said that he is in severe pain and the extent of permanent damage remains to be seen.

Because of the severity of the teenager’s injuries the police are considering altering the charge to attempted murder.

During an interview at his bedside yesterday afternoon, Witbooi slurred: “Pray for me, pray for me.”

Shocked nurses said he was in pain and crying for his grandparents yesterday morning. His devastated and angry grandparents James Witbooi, 61, and Beatrice, 62 – who look after the boy – said they were glad he was alive after he went missing that afternoon.

Beatrice asked:

“Who does this to a child? How would you feel if this was your child lying here?”

Police spokesman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the incident happened when three males approached two people in the parking area across from McDonald’s in Beach Road.

“According to police information, a ‘cigarette’ was offered to vagrants and a 12-year-old accepted it. The ‘cigarette’ was allegedly lit by one of the three men and seconds later it blew up in the face of the child,” Naidu said.

The three men then sped off in a bakkie.

Naidu – who confirmed that three prime suspects in the crime are the children of a police colonel – said the police were alerted and the registration number of the vehicle was traced to a house in Summerstrand.

Humewood police station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll said : “This is a very serious incident and has likely changed this youngster’s life forever.”

Read also : Schoolboy fatally stabbed by teenagers.