Amputee Olympian charged in girlfriend’s death

‘Bladerunner’ held in S. Africa killing

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As South African law-enforcement officials formally charged Olympic double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius for murder in the death of his glamorous model girlfriend, U.S. domestic-violence specialists said the “heartbreaking” news shows that dating violence can happen to anyone, anywhere.

People may think that violence and batterings only happen at the hands of thugs and villains, “but the truth is, these unhealthy relationships are happening all around us,” said Cristina Escobar, director of Love Is Respect, a program with Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit aimed at ending domestic and dating violence.

“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or where you are located,” Ms. Escobar said. “Anyone can be a victim, and anyone can be an abuser.”

“It’s truly heartbreaking,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president for development and innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Noting that victim Reeva Steenkamp had been slated to give a talk on women’s empowerment in a few days, Ms. Southworth said that “the highest risk” for violence typically comes when a victim tries to challenge the control of the abuser.

“Often in domestic-violence homicides, the victim is trying to either end the relationship or reassert some of her own identity or control over her own daily activities — what she wears, where she goes, who she sees, what work she does,” said Ms. Southworth.

“I can’t speak to what happened in the middle of the night” in Mr. Pistorius‘ house, “but it is a horribly tragic case,” she said.

According to news reports, South African police charged Mr. Pistorius, 26, with the Valentine’s Day slaying of Ms. Steenkamp, who police said was 30 years old.

“I can confirm that a suspect has been charged. He has been charged with murder,” police Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale told reporters.

Police opposed bail for Mr. Pistorius, who is the only suspect in the case. A 9 mm pistol and other guns were found in the home, which is located in a gated community in Pretoria, South Africa. Police said they were called by neighbors who heard shouting and gunshots coming from the home.

Mr. Pistorius gained world acclaim as “the Blade Runner” owing to the high-tech artificial blades he has used since childhood, when he lost his legs to amputation as a result of a congenital condition. After a lengthy legal battle, Mr. Pistorius won permission to compete in the Olympic Games and represented South Africa in London in July.

On Thursday, police arrested him on suspicion of shooting Ms. Steenkamp, a model who had been dating him for several months. Although she had recently begun speaking against rape and abuse of women on Twitter, Ms. Steenkamp’s comments about Mr. Pistorius indicated their romance was going very well and that she was looking forward to seeing him on Valentine’s Day.

The Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld initially suggested that the athlete mistook his girlfriend for a burglar and shot her accidentally. However, a police spokeswoman, Brig. Denise Beukes, said police were “surprised” at reports the killing was accidental, adding that that version hadn’t come from police, according to the South African Press Association.

Although South Africans were shocked at the killing, Brig. Beukes said there had been “allegations of a domestic nature” previously involving the track star. “I’m not going to elaborate on it, but there have been incidents” at Mr. Pistorius‘ home, she said.

Mr. Pistorius‘ father, Henke, declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press, only saying, “We all pray for guidance and strength for Oscar and the lady’s parents.”

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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