John from Assen will never be the same again after a random attack with a knife on the street. ‘My head wants everything, but my body can’t do anything’

John van der Woude (69) from Assen was attacked by a psychotic man with a knife while walking his dog. He became permanently disabled and still struggles with the consequences every day. “There is nothing left of my healthy body.”

It’s 9:30 am on Saturday December 3, 2022 when John van der Woude steps out the front door for a walk with his chihuahua Fionah. As he walks down the street he hears someone shouting in the adjacent street. Van der Woude pays little attention to it. It is often noisy around the Van Swinderenhof, where the Salvation Army has care homes. He finishes his walk, but quickens his pace when he suddenly hears glass shattering in his own street.

There he sees an unknown man smashing windows with a manhole cover. When the man realizes that he has been seen, he runs towards Van der Woude with a large knife in his hand. The man kicks him down and continues to kick and stab him. When the attacker holds back for a moment, Van der Woude tries to get up. That’s not possible; his leg lies with his foot turned backwards and he cannot move. Suddenly the pain overwhelms him and he loses consciousness.

Complete arbitrariness

More than a year later, Van der Woude is sitting in a chair in front of the window, two of his five cats on his lap. Son Matthijs (17) makes coffee and tries to calm down Rottweiler Rambo, while his father talks in a voice battered by the attack about the day that completely turned the family’s life upside down. After the attack, he was taken to hospital in Assen with a shattered hip and cuts on his hands and face. When he comes to, it becomes clear how bad a condition he is in. “The doctors gave me two options: amputate the leg, or undergo surgery in the hope that they could make something of it.”

He chooses the second. Despite a new hip and a metal plate between his hip and buttock, it soon becomes clear that Van der Woude is left with permanent damage from the completely random attack. “I could never have imagined in my life that something like this would happen to me. I was a fit man with a busy life. I had a tickle in my ass, sitting still was not for me. Since December 3, I have had nothing at all. The force and speed with which he attacked me were enormous. He was superman.”

Ticking time bomb

That same day, a 36-year-old man with no fixed abode or residence arrested for the attack on Van der Woude. “If the police had not found him, I would have started looking for him myself,” says son Matthijs bitterly. “I also said that to the police. Then he would have been mine.” The man later appears to be suffering from serious psychological complaints and to have been in a psychosis fueled by drug use. He also did not take his prescribed medication.

At the beginning of January 2024, the perpetrator will be sentenced to five years in prison with TBS at the multiple criminal chamber in Assen. The man has an extensive criminal record, was known to authorities and was previously prosecuted for attempted manslaughter. Van der Woude finds it incomprehensible that such a ticking time bomb could walk around freely. “As if something terrible has to happen before action is taken.” The conviction of the perpetrator does nothing for him, there is no relief. “It doesn’t change my situation. I am scarred for life.”


He rejected a program in a rehabilitation center. “It’s that I have my son and animals, otherwise it would have been done for me. What else is the point of life?” Being away from home for six months was therefore not an option. Van der Woude did follow three months of physiotherapy. “I stopped doing that in consultation with the therapist. There is no improvement whatsoever, I have to make do with this.”

In a victim statement during the trial, Van der Woude’s lawyer read out a statement from son Matthijs. “My father was the strongest man I could imagine, both emotionally and physically,” he says. “We went to the gym together and he lifted an engine block and gearbox out of a car without any problems.” The retired car mechanic still regularly did odd jobs for acquaintances from the neighborhood. “I do that for him now,” says Matthijs.

Waiting lists

The consequences of the attack are still noticeable every day. It is not only the nerve pain and decreased mobility that affect Van der Woude, the mental impact is also great. Son Matthijs has stopped studying and is struggling with a lot of pent-up anger and sadness, he says. “It still doesn’t dawn on me what happened. Nothing is the same. I have been on the waiting list to talk about this for four months, and there will only be a place in two months. During that time, not one agency has called me to ask how things are going.”

His father also has conversations with a doctor. “You can act tough, but you can’t let go of an experience like that.” The other help is difficult to get started. “There are huge waiting lists everywhere, I’m still waiting for someone to come and clean.” Mayor Marco Out, who visited Van der Woude after the attack, offered to always be available if help was needed. “But then you only get to speak to his secretary,” he sneers. “And then you never hear anything again.”

Never accept

Father and son do not want to move. “This could have happened anywhere,” says Van der Woude. “I have lived here for 42 years and I still feel safe at home.” Rottweiler Rambo – part of the family for six months – also helps with this. “No one dares to hurt you if you walk down the street with him,” says Matthijs.

“We have to move on with our lives, but we don’t know exactly how.” Van der Woude is most concerned about his son. “He still has his whole life ahead of him and is having a very difficult time with what happened.” He himself permanently takes heavy painkillers to suppress the pain caused by the damage to his nerves. “I take care of the kittens, I can just about do that.”

Anger and sadness

Van der Woude tries to give the attack a place, but the anger and sadness are actually too great. “I can never accept that this happened. My head wants everything, but my body can’t do anything. It stings that all the attention goes to treating the perpetrator, while I have to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of my life,” he says.

His son nods. “All we can do is keep talking. With each other and the people around us. Otherwise it will destroy you.”