, PRETORIA, Feb 14 – South African police said on Thursday they have charged Olympic sprint star Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius with the Valentine’s Day murder of his model girlfriend, playing down reports she was mistaken for a burglar.
“I can confirm that a suspect has been charged, he has been charged with murder,” said lieutenant colonel Katlego Mogale after the shooting at Pistorius’s upscale home in Pretoria.
Police and Pistorius’s family confirmed that there was only one suspect in the case and that the athlete had been taken into custody, with police saying they will oppose bail.
The 26-year-old, a national icon who made history when he became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics last year, was expected to appear in court shortly charged with the killing of 30-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp.
“He is with the police and the matter is in the hands of the authorities,” his father Henke Pistorius told AFP.
“Obviously we are shocked. Our thoughts are with the family of the woman involved in this tragedy,” he said.
Police said the deceased, identified by friends as Steenkamp, was shot four times and died at the scene.
She was described by Sarit Tomlins of her management agency as “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth.”
Police expressed their surprise at media reports that the shooter had mistaken the FHM cover girl as an intruder and said that Pistorius has had previous run-ins with the authorities.
“We were surprised by allegations that the deceased had been perceived to be a burglar,” said police spokeswoman Denise Beukes.
“The premises are fairly secure… This is a fairly secure estate.”
“There’s previously been incidents of allegations of domestic disputes at the home of the accused.”
Beukes said they were talking to neighbours who “heard things” earlier in the evening.
“The state will be opposing bail,” she added.
Crime is a major problem in South Africa and many people keep weapons at home.
Pistorius has previously spoken of carrying a firearm when faced with a potential threat at home and of visiting a shooting range.
A year ago he told the New York Times of an incident where he took his gun to go downstairs to check on what turned out to be a false setting off of his security alarm.
He also took the newspaper’s reporter to a nearby shooting range with his 9-millimetre handgun after learning that the journalist had never fired a shot.
Asked how frequently he went to the shooting range, Pistorius said: “Just sometimes when I can’t sleep.”
The Johannesburg-born athlete – known as “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre running blades – made history at the London Games in 2012 when he became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
He won gold in the 4x100m relay and the 400m individual at the Paralympic Games in London and was triple gold medallist in the Beijing games in 2008 in the 100m, 200m and 400m.
Pistorius was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
“You’re not disabled by your disabilities but abled by your abilities,” he told Athlete magazine in a 2011 interview.
He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old after being born without lower leg bones. But he played sports unhindered while growing up, switching to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
At high school, he was so good that his personal fitness coach said she was unaware for six months that he ran on prosthetic legs.
But he was initially banned from competing in the Olympics in Beijing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on the grounds that his blades gave him an unfair advantage.
That decision was later overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), although he ultimately failed to meet the Olympic qualifying standard time.
Off the track, Pistorius is an adrenalin junkie, with a love of speed reflected in a passion for motorbikes.
Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw.
He also once owned two white tigers but sold them to a zoo in Canada when they became too big.