South African Paralympic star charged with murder
By LYDIA POLGREEN
The New York Times | February 15,2013
AP File Photo
In this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, photo, South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius wins gold in the men’s 400-meter T44 final at the 2012 Paralympics in London.
JOHANNESBURG — Reeva Steenkamp, the model, and Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic champion and Olympic competitor, were glamorous young fixtures on the South African celebrity scene.
But early Thursday, police arrived at Pistorius’ house in a gated community in Pretoria to find Steenkamp, 30, dead from multiple gunshot wounds in a puddle of blood. And before the day was out, Pistorius, 26, who ran on carbon-fiber blades that earned him the nickname Blade Runner, had been charged with murder.
Early news reports here that Pistorius, a gun enthusiast, had accidentally shot his girlfriend, thinking she was intruder, gave way to grim police news conferences announcing previous law enforcement complaints about domestic incidents at his home and the current charges of murder. The development stunned a nation that had elevated Pistorius to iconic status as a national sporting hero, an emblem of the ability to overcome acute adversity and a symbol of South Africa’s ability to project achievements onto the world stage.
“He was an icon for South Africa,” said Hennie Kotze, one of the coaches who worked with Pistorius as part of the 400-meter relay at the London Olympics. “It was the way he handled his disability with such character and discipline. It is a big shock for everyone.”
Pistorius was arrested Thursday and taken to a Pretoria jail, where he will spend the night in anticipation of a bail hearing to be held this morning. Police have said they plan to oppose bail in the case.
Pistorius, who was born without fibulas, had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday, and he battled for many years to compete against able-bodied athletes.
His arrest is a stark reminder of the violence that permeates South Africa, where fear of armed robberies and carjackings prompt the wealthy to take refuge in heavily guarded gated compounds and arm themselves with handguns.
“The best case is that he shot her by mistake,” said Hagen Engler, a journalist who edited FHM, a magazine that frequently featured Steenkamp, whom he knew well. “And that is a particularly South African mistake, that we are so paranoid you are ready to fire off bullets when you don’t know is coming. We are such a messed up country in some ways, and every now and then it comes to the surface with events that bring it into such stark relief.”