Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder

Oscar Pistorius wore a hood over his head as he left a police station on Tuesday.
AFP/Getty Images
Oscar Pistorius wore a hood over his head as he left a police station on Tuesday.

JOHANNESBURG — Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, who made sporting history by becoming the first double-amputee sprinter to compete in the Olympics, was charged with murder Thursday after a woman was fatally shot in his home in Pretoria, according to South African police officials.

The development stunned a nation that had elevated Pistorius to iconic status because of his ability to overcome acute adversity and represent South Africa’s achievements on the world stage.

Confirming the charges, police officials said they planned to oppose Pistorius’s expected application for bail at a court hearing scheduled for Friday. Police had initially said he would appear in court later Thursday.


South African and other media quoted associates of the victim as identifying her as Reeva Steenkamp, a model whose Twitter page described her as a ‘‘cover girl’’ and a law school graduate. Steenkamp and Pistorius had frequently been seen together at society events, and South African media identified her as his girlfriend, giving them the aura of a golden couple beloved by the society pages and photographers.

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Pistorius, 26, won two gold medals and a silver at last year’s Paralympic Games in London. In the 2012 Olympics, he reached the 400-meter semifinal and competed in the 4 x 400 meter relay. Known by the nickname Blade Runner, he races using carbon fiber prosthetic blades.

Early Thursday morning, police responded to a report of gunshots in the upscale housing complex where Pistorius lives, said Colonel Katlego Mogale, a police spokeswoman. When they arrived, they found paramedics treating a 30-year-old woman for gunshot wounds. The woman was pronounced dead and a 26-year-old man was taken into custody, Mogale said.

Mogale would not comment on a possible motive for the shooting.

‘‘A case of murder has been opened,’’ she said before police said they had formally charged Pistorius.


Reports from local media said that Pistorius told police that the shooting was an accident and that he had mistaken the victim for an intruder.

But speaking to reporters in Pretoria, another police spokeswoman, Denise Beukes said those reports had taken her by surprise.

She also said that police had responded previously to complaints of a ‘‘domestic nature’’ at the runner’s home but declined to give further details.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, and break-ins by armed robbers are relatively common. Legal handgun ownership is also common, with restrictions.

Pistorius’s father, Henke Pistorius, said in a telephone interview from South Africa: ‘‘I wasn’t there; I have too much respect for Oscar to speculate. I have no clue what happened. The only person who can make any statement will be Oscar himself.’’


Asked if his son’s relationship had been troubled, Henke said, ‘‘Not as far as I know. But I don’t discuss my son’s relationships. I have in fact not met the lady. I don’t know.’’

In the Paralympics last September, Pistorius won individual gold, when he defended his Paralympic 400-meter title. He had lost his 100- and 200-meter titles, but was part of the gold medal-winning 4 x 100 meter relay team. He came second in the 200-meter race.

After that contest, Pistorius damaged his reputation among his followers by criticizing the winner, Alan Oliveira of Brazil, raising questions about the length of the winner’s blades. Pistorius later apologized .

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. In 2008, he qualified for the Beijing Games but was ruled ineligible by track’s world governing body because his blades were deemed to give him a competitive advantage.

South African journalists said Pistorius lived in a walled complex near the South African capital, Pretoria. A reporter outside the compound Thursday said it was protected by high walls and razor wire.

In a statement, the International Paralympic Committee said it would not comment ‘‘until the official police process has concluded’’ but it offered ‘‘its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families involved in this case.’’

Sarit Tomlinson, Steenkamp’s publicist, told Sky News that the couple had a ‘‘healthy, fabulous relationship.’’

On her Twitter account, Steenkamp sent a message on Wednesday alluding to Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 and saying: ‘‘What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???’’