Police say they are disturbed by the "horrific and heartbreaking" death of a teenage boy at the hands of "brainless criminals" in Klarinet near eMalahleni in the early hours of Tuesday morning while his mother was working the night shift at a nearby mine

According to Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, it appears that the 13-year-old boy was asleep when two "ruthless thugs" broke into the home and stole valuable items, not realising the boy was in the house.

"[The boy] might have been awoken by the strange noise in the house and, upon seeing that his life was in danger, ran into one of the rooms and locked himself inside," Hlathi said.

"Moments later, the boy screamed for help, which drew the attention of the heartless men and they then headed to the room, broke the door and suffocated him until he became unconscious.

"One of the suspects… shot the defenceless boy as he lay there unresponsive and they took a television set before fleeing the scene on foot."

Hlathi said police and medical personnel were notified about the incident by neighbours who had heard the boy screaming, as well as the sound of a gunshot.

"The boy was found, but unfortunately certified dead. Cases of house robbery as well as murder were opened and police have since launched a manhunt for the suspects."

'Innocent boy lost his life prematurely'

In a strongly worded statement, Mpumalanga police commissioner Lieutenant General Mondli Zuma condemned the shooting and "senseless killing" of an innocent 13-year-old boy in what he called a "horrific and heartbreaking incident".

Zuma said an "innocent boy lost his precious life prematurely at the hands of despicable criminals".

"We are really disturbed by this incident where the life of an innocent teenager was taken abruptly by these brainless criminals. I have ordered for their quick arrest and will use all our arsenals to track these men who have no regard for human life," Zuma said.

"These suspects can only be regarded as cowards who opted to prey on an innocent, defenceless child. They should be urgently found [and] arrested so that they can face the might of the law.

"I urge anyone who recently bought a television set from the streets to immediately contact the police as a matter of urgency.

"Let us squeeze the space of these barbaric criminals and squash them out from their hiding places because we cannot afford to share a space with them."

Police have appealed to anyone with information about the perpetrators to contact the SAPS on 08600 10111. Information may also be communicated via the My SAPS app.

All information will be treated with the strictest confidentiality and callers may remain anonymous, Hlathi said.