'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius to be charged with murder of girlfriend

Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 00:00

South Africa has been left stunned by the news that one of the country’s favourite sons, Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius, has been accused of murdering his model girlfriend who was almost as much of an icon for the country as he was.

He will appear in court this morning to be charged formally. Police will oppose bail.

The man known around the world as the Blade Runner because of his high-tech artificial legs was arrested in the early hours of yesterday after 30-year-old Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead at his home.

Ms Steenkamp reportedly sustained gunshot wounds to her head and upper body at Mr Pistorius’s house in the Silver Lakes area of Pretoria, an up-market gated residential community of prosperous middle-class homes. A 9mm pistol was recovered at the scene.

The high-profile couple had been dating for only a couple of months after meeting at an awards ceremony. Although police declined formally to confirm the name of the victim yesterday, a publicist for Ms Steenkamp, Sarit Tomlinson, said in a statement the model was dead.

‘Angel on earth’

“We can confirm that Reeva Steenkamp has passed away,” she said. “We are in communication with people on the scene. Please wait for the official statements, as there is too much speculation at this moment.

“Our thoughts and prayers go to the Steenkamp family, who have asked to have their privacy respected during this difficult time. Everyone is simply devastated. She was the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth and will be sorely missed,” concluded Ms Tomlinson.

Mistaken identity

When the story first broke early yesterday morning, it was reported by Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld that Mr Pistorius had shot Ms Steenkamp after allegedly thinking she was a burglar who had gained entry to his home.

But police later said there was no sign of a forced entry, and that a 26-year-old had been taken into custody at the scene. They added they were not seeking anyone else in relation to the incident.

The suspect, who cannot be named by police until he has been officially charged in court, was supposed to appear before a Pretoria magistrate yesterday afternoon.

However, the case was postponed until today to give state prosecutors more time to prepare their case. The accused has been remanded in custody until then.

While police have refused to name the accused, it has been widely reported by sources connected to the case that Mr Pistorius was the 26-year-old arrested.

Police spokeswoman Denise Beukes spoke to the media yesterday morning outside the country estate where Mr Pistorius lives.

She confirmed there had been previous allegations “of a domestic nature” at Mr Pistorius’s home.

Initial investigation

She added that the police had interviewed witnesses and neighbours during their initial investigation who claimed to have heard things earlier on Wednesday evening before the shooting took place.

“The SA police service were surprised this morning to hear on the radio that allegations had been made that the deceased had been perceived to be a burglar,” Ms Beukes said.

Yesterday afternoon Mr Pistorius’s father, Henke, said his son was “sad” following a shooting at his Pretoria home.

“I don’t know nothing. It will be extremely obnoxious and rude to speculate. I don’t know the facts,” Henke Pistorius told SABC radio news.

“If anyone makes a statement, it will have to be Oscar. He’s sad at the moment.”

The news that police were investigating a murder rather than an accidental shooting incident has had a profound effect on the South African public, which had taken Mr Pistorius to their hearts.

Mr Pistorius has been viewed as a national treasure since taking the sporting world by storm a number of years ago with his successes on the athletics track using carbon fibre prosthetic blades.

Superstar

His fame spread across the world last summer at the London Olympics when he became the first double amputee to compete in the able-bodied competition.

There was a constant stream of messages of condolence from fans and friends throughout the day on Twitter and on Ms Steenkamp’s Facebook page.

“A life cut short too soon . . . praying for peace for both families,” one person said on Ms Steenkamp’s Facebook page.