Sarit Tomlinson, the publicist of model Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot to death in her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius' home last night, talks about her reaction to the incident, calling it "devastating" and describing Pistorius as "charming" and "a great guy."
To all appearances, Olympian Oscar Pistorius and model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp had shared a short but outwardly happy relationship, people who knew the couple said on Thursday.
Steenkamp was confirmed dead by her publicist on Thursday after police in South Africa said a shooting had claimed the life of a 30-year-old woman at Pistorius’ residence in a gated community near Pretoria. Pistorius, 26, appeared in court Friday accused of "premeditated" murder.
The model's publicist Sarit Tomlinson told TODAY Thursday that Pistorius was a "charming, great guy," adding that the couple “seemed happy” without any sign of trouble.
“I can’t comment on the intimate relationship that they had behind closed doors, but they looked happy as any couple would, so no, I didn’t see anything,” Tomlinson said. “It’s devastating and very shocking for us, too – for everyone.”
The couple was first spotted together at the South African Sports Awards last December, according to the Mail & Guardian, a South African paper. Steenkamp said the two were just friends at that time, the paper reported.
“We’re just friends,” Steenkamp told local newspaper the City Press at the time, saying it was a coincidence she was seated at the event with Pistorius and had arrived in the same car. “I promise I’ll tell you if there’s anything more.”
South African sprinter Pistorius came to international prominence during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, when the runner competed on the carbon-fiber prostheses that earned him the sobriquet “Blade Runner.” He was the first double amputee to run on international sporting’s biggest stage. Pistorius won the 400-meter Paralympic gold last September.
Oscar Pistorius, the superstar athlete who became the first double amputee sprinter to compete in the Olympics, is the sole suspect in the murder of law school graduate and famous South African model Reeva Steenkamp. NBC’s Rehema Ellis reports.
“He was an icon for South Africa,” coach Hennie Kotze, who helped Pistorius prepare for the London Games, told The New York Times. “It was the way he handled his disability with such character and discipline. It is a big shock for everyone.”
“Obviously we are shocked,” father Henke Pistorius told Agence France-Presse. “He is with the police and the matter is in the hands of the authorities.”
“Our thoughts are with the family of the woman involved in this tragedy,” Henke Pistorius said.
While some media outlets initially stated that Pistorius may have mistaken the victim for an intruder, South African Police spokeswoman Denise Beukes said that she was “very surprised” to hear speculation that the shooting may have been a case of mistaken identity.
Reeve Steenkamp poses during a photo shoot in Johannesburg.
There were no signs of forced entry at Pistorius’ home, according to police. Reports about previous disturbances at Pistorius’ home had drawn police on “allegations of a domestic nature,” Beukes said.
“There are witnesses and we have interviewed them,” Beukes said. “We’re talking about neighbors and people who heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place.”
Steenkamp was a model and budding television personality who had appeared in men’s magazine FHM, earned her law degree at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and was slated to appear in the upcoming season of a South African celebrity reality show. She was the South African face of cosmetics maker Avon and had appeared in advertisements for clients such as Toyota.
“She was a vibrant, friendly, diligent, and motivated student who was popular with and respected by staff and peers alike,” Greg Stokell, the headmaster at the Port Elizabeth school Steenkamp attended as a child, told South Africa’s The Times newspaper on Thursday. “She set high goals for herself in everything she did and she consistently converted opportunities into success.”
“It’s a beautiful day!” Steenkamp tweeted on Wednesday. “Make things happen. Starting my day off with a yummy healthy shake from my boo :) #healthyliving.”
She posted a black and white photo of Pistorius on Feb. 1: “He certainly doesn’t need more followers but he’s beautiful to look at & says some smart stuff too ;)”
“Our thoughts and prayers go to the Steenkamp family, who have asked to have their privacy respected during this difficult time,” the model’s publicist said in a statement. “She was the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth who will be sorely missed.”
Pistorius is a reported gun owner who had spoken in past interviews about his fear of intruders. In an extensive January 2012 New York Times profile, Pistorius described grabbing his gun one night and creeping through his darkened house after a security alarm went off. The alarm turned out to be nothing, but Pistorius took the reporter to a nearby range to fire his 9mm handgun, the article states.
Many well-to-do South African homeowners keep guns in the house in a country where violent crime is a major issue and the South African Police Service warned two years ago that home invasions occurred at “an alarmingly high rate.” Police statistics for the Guateng province, which includes Pistorius’ home city of Pretoria, tallied 7,039 home invasions in 2011.
In a 2011 interview with The Telegraph, Pistorius recounted how his shooting hobby got him held up at airport security in 2006.
“I was in Holland, and I’d been shooting a few days earlier so I had gunpowder residue on my prosthetic legs,” Pistorius told The Telegraph. “I think they really thought I was a terrorist. I ended up in a holding cell in a police station for six hours.”
On Nov. 27 of last year, Pistorius posted a Twitter message after another false alarm at his house.
“Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking its [sic] an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry!” Pistorius wrote.
While police have not named the victim of the shooting at Pistorius’ residence on Thursday, tributes poured in for Steenkamp.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic circumstances that occurred today at Silver Woods,” the Silver Woods Country Estate said in a statement published on its website early Thursday. “Our sincere condolences, thoughts, and prayers go out to Reeva Steenkamp’s family and friends.”
NBC News’ John Newland, Jason Cumming, Cecile Antonie and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:27 PM EST