What we know so far about Reeva Steenkamp and the case against Oscar Pistorius

Olympian weeps in court as prosecutors suggest killing was premeditated

Athlete Oscar Pistorius weeps in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, Feb 15, 2013. (Antione de Ras, Independent Newspapers Ltd South Africa, AP Photo)

This is what we know. Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympian and Olympian, is accused of murdering Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend. He allegedly shot her four times with a 9-mm pistol around 4 a.m. Valentine’s Day morning.

South African media are reporting she was struck through a bathroom door. Neighbours told police they’d heard “screaming and shouting” around the time of the shooting.  Beeld, a South African newspaper, have reported that Steenkamp was alive when security guards first arrived at the scene.

On Friday morning in a Pretoria courtroom, the star athlete wept as  murder charges were read. Prosecutors told the court they will make the case that the killing was premeditated.

Immediately following the hearing, the alleged murder was “disputed in the strongest terms,” by Pistorius’s family and UK-based management firm.

Pistorius will spend the weekend in jail before a bail hearing early next week. There are reports that he is on suicide watch.

Pistorius is known as the “blade runner,” a nickname for the prosthetic limbs he wears to race. The 26-year-old is the model underdog, overcoming odds to become a champion sprinter. He is the winner of six Paralympic golds, and the right to race on his blades in the London 2012 Games. His adversities aren’t just physical. In 2009, he broke his jaw and smashed an eye socket in a speedboat crash. His recovery was a testament to his commitment to being a better person — and athlete. “There were things I was doing in my life that weren’t conducive to great performance,” he said to the Guardian before the London Games. “To go throw it away right now wouldn’t make sense.”

Reeva Steenkamp was becoming famous in her own right. She was a law graduate, voted one of FHM’s sexiest women, and a women’s advocate. “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning,” she said last week in a tweet. “Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals.” Steenkamp was poised to be the brightest star of a reality television show debuting this Saturday.

Her death has shocked South Africa and the world. Yes, because it is a celebrity murder —Pistorius is among the most recognizable faces in the country. But also because it was done with a gun, used against a woman.

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It’s an understatement to say the gun debate here is different than in North America. For one, having a gun isn’t contentious. Armed robberies are common and having a gun to protect yourself is common sense. For another, people are paranoid. “Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking it’s an intruder to go into full recon mode into the pantry! waa,” Pistorius said in a November 2012 tweet.

Pistorius isn’t the only one who is scared in the suburbs. One woman, whose house overlooks Pistorius’s mansion, says the security at Silver Woods Estate is unbeatable — that’s why she lives there. The community boasts electric fencing, cameras, and guards in trucks, on bikes and on foot with dogs. “And we have armed security on top of all that,” she says, describing South Africa as “scary.” Still, she never imagined a murder could happen in Silver Woods. “You don’t expect that to happen here.”

In the morning, the most popular theory being batted around by the local media was that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder. Police dismissed this theory. By the afternoon, the conversation had drifted to domestic abuse. Violence against women has been in the headlines after 17-year-old Anene Booysen was gang raped and murdered in Bredasdorp, in the country’s south. South African President Jacob Zuma said in his state of the union address, held the evening of the shooting, that “the brutality and cruelty metted out to defenseless women is unacceptable and has no place in our country.”

“It’s called a security estate, and that’s what it is,” said a man walking by Pistorius’s house on Thursday evening. “I’d say don’t go around blaming crime for everything in South Africa.” His wife agreed. “That’s people’s instant response,” she said. “It’s not always the case.”


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