On February 14, 2013, Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp multiple times through his bathroom door — then claimed he thought she was an intruder.
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.
They didn’t call him “Blade Runner” for nothing. At just 25 years old, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius took the world by storm when he stepped onto the track at the 2012 London Games wearing carbon fiber prostheses. He was missing both legs below the knee.
A double amputee since infancy, Pistorius had already taken home numerous medals at various competitions, including several gold medals at the Paralympics. His success caught the attention of able-bodied athletic organizations, and for a moment in time, it seemed as if Pistorius’ career might fundamentally change the sporting world.
Then, on Feb. 14, 2013, his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead. She’d been shot to death in the bathroom of Pistorius’ home near Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius claimed he had mistaken her for a burglar and that the shooting was accidental. He was initially found guilty of culpable homicide, but in 2015, an appeals court overturned the judgment and convicted him of murder.
And in the wake of Steenkamp’s death, dark skeletons in Oscar Pistorius’ closet came to light, painting the image of a much more dangerous man than the world had believed him to be.
Who Were Oscar Pistorius And Reeva Steenkamp?
Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born on Nov. 22, 1986, without a fibula bone in either of his lower legs. As a result, both legs were amputated below the knee when he was just 11 months old. As a toddler, he learned to walk on fiberglass pegs.
Pistorius’ parents, Henke and Sheila Pistorius, were the owners of a zinc-mining business in Johannesburg, South Africa. They encouraged their son from a young age to participate in sports, and despite his physical handicap, he played both water polo and rugby as a child.
However, Pistorius sustained an injury to his knee on the rugby field in 2003. Shortly after, while rehabilitating his knee, he got his first carbon fiber prostheses. In 2004, he participated in the Paralympic Games in Athens, winning the 200-meter track event and earning a bronze medal in the 100-meter sprint.
Pistorius eventually gained international attention and won three gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, setting a world record in his class. In 2009, he sustained a head injury in a boating accident, which kept him out of major competitions in 2010. He returned in 2011 to compete at the Paralympic World Cup, winning two more gold medals.
While Pistorius was making a name for himself in the track and field world, Reeva Steenkamp had already established herself as a successful model.
According to CNN, Steenkamp was a law school graduate with an impressive catalog of modeling gigs under her belt. She had worked as a presenter for FashionTV in South Africa, posed as a cover girl for the South African edition of FHM magazine, and been the face of Avon throughout the country.
She was born in Cape Town on Aug. 19, 1983, to Barry and June Steenkamp before moving to Port Elizabeth. Barry Steenkamp’s business was training horses, and his daughter grew up as an avid rider until a fall broke her back in her early 20s.
After that, the South African City Press reported, she had to learn to walk again.
Yet the incident didn’t slow her down, and by the time Pistorius was recovering from his own injury and getting ready to compete once again, Steenkamp was likewise prepping for her reality television debut as a contestant on the show Tropika Island of Treasure.
Sometime around November 2012, she met Oscar Pistorius. The two quickly formed a relationship, and from the outside, they seemed like a celebrity power couple.
Unfortunately, their short-lived romance came to a bloody end just three months later.
The Murder Of Reeva Steenkamp And The Trials That Followed
In the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 2013, Oscar Pistorius fired four shots through the bathroom door of his Pretoria home. At his trial, he would claim he believed a burglar had been hiding on the other side of the door. In actuality, there had been no burglar at all. Pistorius had just shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius was subsequently arrested and charged with murder before being released on bail. A year later, in March 2014, Pistorius’ trial began in the High Court of South Africa.
As FOX News reported, the trial was a dramatic affair. When Pistorius appeared in court, he was visibly shaken, openly sobbing, and gagging repeatedly. He even vomited once during the pathologist’s testimony, which featured photos of Steenkamp’s autopsy.
“I wake up every morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for,” Pistorius told Steenkamp’s family when he took the stand. “I can’t imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness I’ve caused you and your family. I was simply trying to protect Reeva.”
Pistorius claimed that he had awoken in the middle of the night to what he believed was the sound of a bathroom window breaking. He kept a gun hidden under his bed for self-protection — South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and home invasions are a common occurrence.
“Before I knew it,” he said, “I had fired four shots.”
Pistorius also claimed that he had fired the shots out of fear, then put on his prosthetic legs and smashed the door down with a cricket bat to find Steenkamp on the other side. But prosecutors argued that the downward angle of the shots through the door indicated that he had already been wearing his prostheses when he fired.
Furthermore, Steenkamp had been crouched down on the floor with her hands over her head when she was struck. A neighbor also testified that there had been a “blood-curdling,” high-pitched woman’s scream before the shots were fired. Other witnesses said they heard Pistorius and Steenkamp arguing earlier that evening.
And throughout the trial, other pieces of evidence were presented that showed insight into Pistorius’ true nature. One text from Steenkamp to Pistorius, sent about two weeks before her murder, read: “I’m scared of u sometimes and how u snap at me and of how u will react to me.”
The Guardian later reported that a former girlfriend of Pistorius’ had come forward and accused him of emotional and physical abuse. She said he would lock her in the house for hours without any food, call her parents throughout the day to track her movements, and threaten and physically abuse her to the point that she feared for her life.
Pistorius’ first trial, though, did not end with him being convicted of murder. Instead, he was convicted of a lesser charge of culpable homicide — similar to manslaughter — and sentenced to five years in prison.
The decision, however, was not well received. Steenkamp’s parents believed Pistorius was lying about what had happened that evening and were naturally outraged by his lesser conviction. When Pistorius was released from prison in October 2015 to serve out the rest of his sentence on house arrest, prosecutors were quick to appeal.
The appeals court overturned Pistorius’ previous conviction and found him guilty of murder, sentencing him to six years in prison in July 2016. A year later, however, that sentence was found to be too lenient, and Pistorius’ sentence was increased to 13 years and five months.
And though Pistorius’ team has tried to appeal that final sentence and reduce the amount of time he will spend behind bars, those attempts have been fruitless. Oscar Pistorius may once have been an inspirational figure, but his legacy was forever tarnished when he killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day one decade ago.
After learning about the rise and fall of Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, read the story of NFL player Aaron Hernandez and his disturbing descent to murder. Or, learn about John List, the man who murdered his family so he’d see them in Heaven.