Pistorius denies murdering his girlfriend

February 15, 2013
Oscar Pistorius reacts in court in Pretoria, South Africa on Feb 15, 2013. (AP)
Oscar Pistorius reacts in court in Pretoria, South Africa, on Feb. 15, 2013. (AP)

Oscar Pistorius's family said in a statement that the Paralympic star would fight charges that he shot and killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius denied the murder charges “in the strongest terms,” his family and management said, and offered their ‘deepest sympathy' to Steenkamp's family," the Guardian reported.

Pistorius sobbed through a Friday court appearance, and when the judge said the words, "premeditated murder" -- the charge the prosecution hopes to pursue -- he doubled over, head bowed, weeping and shaking.

"He remained inconsolable and silent throughout, a lonely man in a crowded room," the Guardian said.

Reports from South Africa also reveal a courtroom full of supportive friends in disbelief.

"He is the kindest, most gentle person. Never ever, ever would I have guessed this would happen," a friend who has known Pistorius for five years, and asked to remain anonymous, told the Mail & Guardian. "He would never brush off anyone. No matter where you were with him, every single time he saw people who wanted to talk to him, he would take two or three minutes to spend with them. Whether it was a signature or a hug, he would take the time."

The source said he had met with Pistorius and Steenkamp several times, and that the couple was "so fun" together.

"He would tickle her leg and she would just scream with laughter." He said Pistorius would refer to Steenkamp as "my nunu".

It's also worth noting his importance to South Africa, as The Washington Post's Kevin Sullivan reported. In a country with a legacy of corrupt politicians, racial violence and few global sports victories, Pistorius stood out as an underdog who brought honor to South Africa.

Known as the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius is a revered figure in South Africa. The nation roared for him during his historic appearance at the 2012 London Olympics, where he became the first double-amputee sprinter to compete.

Ancilla Smith, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics in South Africa, said South Africans identified with Pistorius because “he has become a symbol of overcoming adversity, which is pretty much what South Africa is all about.”

Of course, none of this mitigates the horror of the shooting itself, in which Steenkamp was shot four times through the bathroom door, in the head, chest, hand and pelvis, after what neighbors said were loud voices and shouting.

And it seems there was more to the Olympian than his support for good causes and his relentless drive to win. As journalists have combed through past profiles of the running star in the wake of the shooting, they've uncovered past incidents of assault against former girlfriends, a taste for firearms and a drunk boating incident.

But the other tragic story within the Pistorius shooting is that of a beleaguered, up-and-coming nation losing a major role model.

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Max Fisher · February 15, 2013