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'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius charged with murder

Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius was charged with murder Thursday after his girlfriend was shot dead at his South African home.

South African Police spokeswoman Denise Beukes said that Pistorius, 26, and the victim were the only people present when the shooting took place. The woman had been shot at least twice, police said.

Pistorius will appear for a court hearing on Friday at 9am local time, the South African prosecutor’s office confirmed.

Numerous media outlets reported that the sprinter -- who is nicknamed "Blade Runner" because he races wearing carbon fiber prosthetic blades -- may have mistaken the woman for an intruder. 

Beukes would not confirm the victim's identity, but said investigators were "very surprised" to hear media reports that the shooting was possibly a case of mistaken identity. 

A publicist for Reeva Steenkamp, a model whom Pistorius was dating, confirmed to NBC's TODAY that her client was dead. She described the incident as a "huge loss for everyone and too shocking for words."

Beukes said there were no signs of forced entry to the home and said that police would oppose any application Pistorius might make to be released on bail. 

Beukes said there had been reports about previous problems at Pistorius' home that were "allegations of a domestic nature." When a reporter asked if she meant domestic violence, she nodded and said yes.

"There are witnesses and we have interviewed them," she added. "We're talking about neighbors and people who heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place."

The Associated Press reported that a 9mm handgun had been found at his home in the luxurious Silver Woods gated community.

More on this story from NBC Sports

Sarit Tomlinson, who is Steenkamp's publicist, told Britains' Sky News that the the pair had been together for a couple months.

"She was a rising star ... a very bright young girl," Tomlinson said. She noted that "no one knows what happened" but said "we are in communication with the people on the scene."

The Silver Woods Country Estate released a statement on its website early Thursday: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic cir­cum­stances that occurred today at Sil­ver Woods. Our sincere con­do­lences, thoughts and prayers go out to Reeva Steenkamp’s fam­ily and friends."

Steenkamp, a 30-year-old law school graduate, gushed about Valentine's Day on Twitter Wednesday, posting "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???" and "It should be a day of love for everyone."

Pistorius was born without a fibula in both legs and battled for years to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes. 

'National hero'

He was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics. He qualified for the 400-meter semi-finals and 4 x 400-meter final at the London 2012 Summer Games. 

His website highlighted that Pistorius ran in 11 races during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralymics and returned home with "two Paralympic gold medals, Paralympic silver, two world records, a Paralympic record, an Olympic individual semi-final and an Olympic final."

He earned headlines after qualifying for the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and is widely considered the world's most famous disabled athelete.

Speaking to Sky News, South African journalist Kribani Pillay described Pistorius as a "national hero and national icon."

Violent crime is major issue in South Africa, and many homeowners own guns.

In a January 2012 New York Times article, Pistorius described his reaction to a security alarm going off in his home:

He mentioned that a security alarm in the house had gone off the previous night, and he had grabbed his gun and tiptoed downstairs. (It turned out to be nothing.)

I asked what kind of gun he owned ...  He fetched his 9-millimeter handgun and two boxes of ammunition. We got back in the car and drove to a nearby firing range, where he instructed me on proper technique. Pistorius was a good coach. ... I asked him how often he came to the range. “Just sometimes when I can’t sleep,” he said.

The U.S. State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security warns of the danger of Pretoria and other South African cities: "On a rating scale of low, medium, high, and critical, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town are rated 'critical' for crime."

Citing South African Police Service 2011 crime statistics, the agency pointed out home invasion as a particularly violent crime that occurs "at an alarmingly high rate."

In Gauteng Province, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, there were 7,039 home invasions reported in 2011, according South African police statistics.

Artist Melinda Bam of Pretoria, who was Miss South Africa 2011, expressed her sadness on Twitter and mentioned "how unsafe most South Africans feel because of crime."

South Africa's Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee declined to discuss the shooting. 

"SASCOC ... knows no more than what is in the public domain, which is there has been an alleged fatal shooting on the basis of a mistaken identity and an apparent assumption of a burglary," it said. "The organization is in no position to comment on the incident other than to say our deepest sympathy and condolences have been expressed to the families of all concerned." 

NBC News' Matthew DeLuca and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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