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Pistorius In Custody After Girlfriend's Death


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne. In South Africa today, a stunning story unfolding, involving the Olympic athlete known as "Blade Runner." Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder; accused of shooting his girlfriend in the hours before dawn, in his home in South Africa. Pistorius became world-famous as the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics. Joining us now to talk about this is Lydia Polgreen. She's the South Africa correspondent for The New York Times. Good morning.

LYDIA POLGREEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: As of this moment, what do we know about what happened?

POLGREEN: Well, before dawn this morning, the police responded to a report of shots being fired at the home of Oscar Pistorius, who lives in a gated community in Pretoria. When the police arrived, they found paramedics working on the injured body of a woman who is 30 years old. The woman died on the spot. The police also recovered a 9 mm pistol.

They arrested the only other person who was present there, who is presumed to be Mr. Pistorius; and he has been charged with murder. At this moment - we were expecting that he would appear in court, but it seems that that hearing has been postponed for the moment.

MONTAGNE: But the charge is in. And one thing you reported, Lydia, earlier was that local media, South Africa local media, were reporting that Pistorius had told a friend, had said he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder. Has anything come of that, or is that story not right?

POLGREEN: Well, the police seem to be quite seriously debunking that - that story. It was circulating on Twitter. Several people in local media had reported that Oscar Pistorius had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder, that perhaps she had snuck into his house to surprise him for Valentine's Day. But now, a very different picture of what took place is emerging. The police have said that they certainly did not give out any information of that nature. And in fact, neighbors of Mr. Pistorius have been telling the police that they heard shouting and screaming before the shots were fired.

So I think that a very different picture of what occurred last - in the early hours of this morning is starting to emerge. The police have also said that they are going to oppose any application for bail for Mr. Pistorius, which is perhaps a reflection of how strong they feel their evidence is for a murder charge.

MONTAGNE: And where is Oscar Pistorius now?


MONTAGNE: In custody.

POLGREEN: Oscar Pistorius was taken to a hospital in Pretoria for some forensic medical tests. And those - after those tests are completed, he is scheduled to be brought to court for a hearing. It seems that that has been postponed, and that he will actually spend the night in the Pretoria jail. And the court hearing will take place tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: And as you just suggested, social media and also talk radio, they're all over this in South Africa. He is a big hero there. What kinds of things are they saying?

POLGREEN: Well, you know, initially this morning, you know, when I first started looking at Twitter, it was clear that there was an outpouring of support for Mr. Pistorius. He is revered in South Africa. And indeed, he's become an icon for disabled people all over the world - you know, the triumph over injury, much like the story of Lance Armstrong; you know, someone who's had terrible adversity and then triumphed. So initially, when it was a sense that he had perhaps mistakenly shot his girlfriend, there was a great deal of sympathy for him. And you have to remember that there is a very high level of crime in South Africa. Break-ins are very common and also, gun ownership is quite common. So that story, when it seemed plausible, got a lot of - got a lot of sympathy from people.

But as the day has gone on, you start to see messages that are much less supportive of Mr. Pistorius and wondering what exactly took place, resurfacing of allegations of public spats that he's had with previous girlfriends, questions about whether there has been domestic violence in his past. So it's a very different mood, you know, in public and on Twitter at the moment - now.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for sharing all that with us.

POLGREEN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: The New York Times South Africa correspondent, Lydia Polgreen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.