World News

02.14.13

Blade Runner’s Beauty Queen: Who Was Reeva Steenkamp?

She was gunned down on Valentine’s Day, allegedly by her Olympic double-amputee boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius. Lizzie Crocker on what we know about Reeva Steenkamp.

Four days before she was shot dead, Reeva Steenkamp spoke out on Twitter about a recent rape and murder in South Africa: “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning. Not everyone did.”

All that changed on Valentine’s Day morning, when the 30-year-old law-school graduate, model, and reality-TV star was allegedly shot four times by her boyfriend, Paralympic and Olympic superstar Oscar Pistorius—known as Blade Runner for his metal prosthetics. He was arrested on the scene at his home in Pretoria and charged with murder.

On Thursday Steenkamp was scheduled to give a motivational speech to students in Johannesburg. “It was about empowerment and inspiration and what inspires you and how to follow your dreams,” Steenkamp’s publicist, Sarit Tomlinson, told the Associated Press.

The case has shocked South Africa, where Pistorius is a national hero, and rippled around the globe. Pistorius, 26, became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics at last summer’s London Games. Steenkamp was also a local celebrity. She was the South African face of Avon cosmetics and an outspoken advocate against the abuse of women. FHM magazine named her one of the 100 sexiest women in the world. The media dubbed the couple “South Africa’s answer to Posh and Becks.”

But hours earlier, around 3 a.m., police were called to Pistorius’s house. Police have denied earlier reports that Pistorius mistook his girlfriend for a burglar. One theory is that a domestic dispute might have sparked the shooting.

“I’m not going to elaborate on it, but there have been incidents” at Pistorius’s home, a police spokeswoman told the Associated Press, and added that there is “no other suspect involved.”

South Africans are in a state of shock over the fall of a sports hero while mourning Steenkamp’s tragic death.

South Africans are in a state of shock over the fall of a sports hero while mourning Steenkamp’s tragic death.

Her publicist described her as “the sweetest, kindest, just angelic soul” who was “continuously breaking the model stereotype.” The South African beauty was born in Capetown and later moved to Port Elizabeth with her family. She moved to Johannesburg six years ago, after she signed a deal with Avon. She had been working with Ice Model Management for the past seven years and became the Kate Upton of South Africa when she landed the December 2011 cover of FHM.

“It is indeed a very sad day for all those that loved & treasured her, our hearts are broken,” the agency said in a statement.

Steenkamp was first spotted with Pistorius at the South Africa Sports Awards in early November. Her publicist told Sky News that their relationship was “healthy” and “fabulous.” Steenkamp herself recently tweeted about her excitement for Valentine’s Day: “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???”

So what went wrong in the wee hours at Pistorius’s house that led to Steenkamp’s untimely end?

Video screenshot

Watch a brief but comprehensive history of Oscar Pistorius, from double-amputee baby to Olympic sprinter to murder suspect.

It may be a while before we have a definitive answer to that question, but police reports of possible domestic violence indicate that—beneath its glossy surface—their relationship might have been turbulent.

Pistorius notoriously got into a Twitter spat with his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, after she remarked on his new romance with Steenkamp: “Oscar has such a way with women. She's probably not the only one he's got… Oscar is certainly not what people think he is."

Pistorius also spent time behind bars in 2009 after a woman claimed he assaulted her at a party. As a celebrity, his close relationship with guns (he reportedly kept a pistol and a machine gun in his bedroom and spent sleepless nights firing off 9mm rounds at a shooting range near his house) could be a sign he felt he needed more protection than most.