Reports that South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shot dead his model girlfriend have shocked fans and led to an outpouring of grief for the victim.

That Reeva Steenkamp was killed on Valentine’s Day added poignancy to the news. Just the day before, she had gone on Twitter to write: “It should be a day of love for everyone 🙂 may it be blessed!”

The news stunned South Africa also because Mr Pistorius belonged to “sporting royalty”, said South African broadcaster Daniel Silke, and people in the country are very familiar with his life story.

“He is of course someone who has overcome great difficulty and tragedy in his own personal life,” he told the News Channel.

“His exposure through the Olympic Games, being able to run in the Olympics – not just in the Paralympics – has placed him amongst the sporting royalty in South Africa, and indeed globally.”

‘True gent’

Sporting bodies, such as the International Paralympics Committee, did not make any comment beyond expressing sympathy for those affected by the incident.

Early media reports suggested that Mr Pistorius may have accidentally shot his girlfriend, believing her to be an intruder.

Many athletes shared the shock and dismay at the news from Pretoria.

“Woken up to the horrendous news about Oscar Pistorius mistakenly shooting his girlfriend,” wrote Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis on Twitter.

“What an awful tragedy.”

Katharine Merry, who won bronze at 400m at the Sydney Olympics, tweeted: “One of the nicest guys , true gent….omg [Oh My God] … shock for oscar and this situation. Imagine, just imagine…”

Later she added: “Still lying in bed staring at the ceiling……..Really?? Really?”

Police later said they were “surprised” by such a theory and were not the source for it. Mr Pistorius is now facing murder charges and is expected to appear at court on Friday.

Paolo Urbani, the mayor of the Italian town of Gemona where Pistorius had a training base described him as “a delightful person”.

“The news shocked not only me personally but also the whole of Gemona and the region,” he said.

His former coach in Italy, Andrea Giannini, said he hopes this turns out to be “just a tragic accident”, reported the Associated Press (AP) news agency in Italy.

‘Devastating and tragic’

Miss Steenkamp’s family were “devastated” by news of her death, an unnamed person described as a close friend of the family told South Africa’s City Press.

The 29-year-old model was set to star in South African reality television series Tropika Island Of Treasure.

“SA Model, Cover Girl, Tropika Island of Treasure Celeb Contestant, Law Graduate, Child of God,” was how she had described herself on Twitter.

In a tribute on its website, Tropika said: “We are deeply saddened and extend our condolences to Reeva’s family and friends.”

Numerous messages of condolences were posted on Twitter, many using the hash tag #RIPReeva.

The dead woman’s publicist, Sarit Tomlinson, described her to BBC News as sweet, kind and an “absolute angel”.

Kirsty Du Toit, who works in PR in South Africa, knew Miss Steenkamp through work contacts.

“My first impression of Reeva was that of a bubbly, confident, and strong woman,” she told the BBC News website.

“She had big dreams, she had big aspirations but her biggest asset was her heart! She was loved by so many and made her mark in the lives of those she treasured.

“Her passing is devastating and tragic. My heart aches for her family as they come to terms with this tragedy.”

Crime debate

The killing has also sparked discussions about the levels of crime in South Africa.

Concerns over violent crime and gun control were also re-awakened among South African people, with local broadcaster and commentator Daniel Silke saying many people lived “often on edge in their home”.

“Many South Africans live in fear of violent crime, there’s a high crime rate in the country and South Africans are often on edge in their home, particularly in the early hours of the morning when they hear noise,” Mr Silke told the BBC.

“This has occurred in an atmosphere in South Africa in which crime again is at the forefront of the public debate, personal safety is again at the forefront of everybody’s concerns.”

Talk radio shows in the country picked up on the issue of gun control and violent crime.

In 2004, Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter Marle after mistaking her for a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.

Radio 702 talk show host Redi Thlabi tweeted: “Expressing our sadness at the tragedy and talking broadly about gun ownership. Nobody is judging Oscar.”

As police continue with their murder investigation former coach Mr Giannini told AP: “Whenever he was tired or nervous he was still extremely nice to people. I never saw him violent.”

By BBC News