NEW: Pistorius cancels his upcoming races
"We are in a state of total shock," his uncle says
Famed Olympian Oscar Pistorius rejects the murder allegation
Some South Africans remain puzzled over his alleged involvement
Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius on Sunday canceled his appearance in five upcoming races, days after being charged with murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend in South Africa.
The move is meant to help Pistorius focus on the legal proceedings and “help and support all those involved as they try to come to terms with this very difficult and distressing situation,” said Peet Van Zyl of Pistorius’ management company, In Site Athlete Management.
The Valentine’s Day shooting has stunned South Africa, where Pistorius is a national hero. Universal admiration for his sports achievements turned to shock, and with only scant details being made public, the questions are swirling.
What transpired in Pistorius’ upscale Pretoria home?
What led to the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a platinum-haired model gearing up for her reality television debut?
And why on Valentine’s Day?
In a packed courtroom in Pretoria, the man nicknamed “Blade Runner,” for his lightning-fast prosthetic legs, held his head in his hands and wept. His loud sobs shook his body uncontrollably.
“As you can imagine our entire family is devastated, we are in a state of total shock,” said his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, in a written statement. “All of us saw at first hand how close she had become to Oscar during that time and how happy they were.”
“We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation and that the State’s own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all.”
Pistorius, 26, also rejected the murder allegation “in the strongest terms,” his agent said in a statement.
’Medals are just medals’
But Saturday, two days after Steenkamp’s death, some South Africans remained puzzled over his alleged involvement.
Despite the fact that he is innocent until proven guilty, some said the allegation has tainted his image.
“I was very shocked. A mother lost a daughter. I was not expecting anything like this from someone like him,” said Nondumiso Mlondo, who lives in Durban.
“Everybody is still talking about it. Just think of those young kids who want to be like him, who are looking up to him. After his Olympic success, we were hoping for something bigger for him this year … look what has happened.”
Citizens carried on heated discussions in buses, bars, barber shops.
“People are saying .. why do stars make a point of screwing up when they are doing so well?” Mlondo asked. “Medals are just medals … I don’t care whether he has hundreds of them, he should be held accountable.”
’Life goes on’
But for others, the shock was ebbing.
“Life goes on,” said Rufaz Mavhure, who lives in Woodmead, a commercial suburb of Johannesburg.
“It was a shock to the nation when we first heard it … but it has worn off,” he said. “We have sobered up – even though people will still question why.”
The allegation was a major fall from grace for a man who made history last year by becoming the first double-amputee runner to compete in the able-bodied Olympic Games in London.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s national broadcaster aired a reality TV show featuring Steenkamp discussing her exit from the taped program, on which she was a contestant.
“I’m going home with sort of a sweet taste in my mouth. I don’t have any regrets. I don’t have any bitterness,” she said. “I’m going to miss you all so much and I love you very very much.”
The decision to air the program took “much deliberation,” and that “this week’s episode will be dedicated to Reeva’s memory,” Executive producer Samantha Moon said.
A fallen hero
When Pistorius was 11 months old, his legs were amputated below the knees because he was missing the fibulae in his legs.
He runs on special carbon fiber blades, hence the nickname.
A few weeks after the Olympics, he smashed a record to win the men’s 400-meter in the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Images of his sports feats flashed across the screens at the time. But by Thursday, it was a jarringly different story.
Pictures of his walk to a police car, his head covered by a sweatshirt, flashed across television screens worldwide.
Then there was his court appearance 24 hours later, grim-faced and sobbing uncontrollably.
Prosecutors planned to upgrade the charge to premeditated murder.
A nation, jolted
Steenkamp’s killing rattled South Africa, which is grappling with the aftermath of the recent murder of 17-year-old Anene Booyson – a case that has put a spotlight on violence against women.
Booyson died after she was gang-raped and mutilated in Bredasdorp, a tiny tourist town southeast of Capetown.
While police have not discussed a possible motive for the 29-year-old model’s killing, local media reported that Pistorius had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder.
But South African authorities stressed that the scenario did not come from them, and said there was no evidence of forced entry at the home.
Police found her in a pool of blood before dawn Thursday after neighbors in the gated community alerted them.
Investigators found a 9mm pistol at the scene.
Renewed calls for stricter gun laws
South Africa has a high crime rate, and many homeowners keep weapons to ward off intruders.
Groups renewed calls for stricter gun laws in the nation after this week’s killing.
“There are 1.5 million gun owners – about 3.5 million guns in civilians hands,” said Alan Storey, chairman of Gun Free South Africa.
Most of the victims of gun homicides in the nation of 50 million people are between the ages 20 and 30, he said.
South Africa has passed tough legislation that includes a requirement for a thorough background check for prospective gun owners. The check includes spouses and partners, and is repeated every few years, he said.
“People acquire guns believing they are more safe … but they place themselves at greater risk,” Storey said. “We’ve made airplanes a gun-free zone. We need to bring that logic down to earth.”
But the South African Gunowners’ Association, a popular gun lobby group, has said citizens have the right to protect themselves from increasingly violent crimes.
“There are already more than enough laws and regulations to control the possession of firearms by private citizens,” it says on its website. “Fewer and less complex laws reasonably, yet properly, applied could achieve the required objective.”
Postponed bail hearing
Beyond the violence, South Africans struggled with the idea that they’ve lost a hero, an athlete who defied incredible physical odds to become a global star.
His face became a fixture on billboards across the nation, some of which started coming down after his arrest.
The Pretoria court postponed Pistorius’ bail hearing to Tuesday and ordered him to remain in custody until then. Prosecutors said they will argue that he committed premeditated murder.
Beukes said the state will oppose bail. That means the 26-year-old, who was among the men featured in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue, could be behind bars, at least temporarily.
Diane McCarthy reported from Pretoria. Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Robyn Curnow, Chelsea J. Carter, Nic Robertson, Ben Brumfield, Kim Norgaard and Diane McCarthy also contributed to this report.