South Africa woke up to a bloody Valentine on Thursday with the news that Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius had allegedly shot dead his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in the early morning.
Talk shows were inundated with callers as rumours – as yet unconfirmed – circulated that Pistorious had shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder in his home in the plush Silver Woods Country Estate, a gated community in Pretoria East.
However, the Mail & Guardian has established that neighbours on the estate called police at about 4am on Thursday after hearing gunshots from next door. Police spokesperson Denise Beukes said at least two shots were fired and a licensed 9mm firearm belonging to Pistorius was also found at the scene.
Beukes said that witnesses had also heard "voices earlier in the evening" and that there were unconfirmed reports of "screaming and shouting".
Pistorius appears to have a history of paranoia and a penchant for guns. Last year, he tweeted: "Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking its an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry! waa [sic]".
During a profile on the sportsman, who competed against able-bodied athletes at last year's London Olympics, the British Daily Mail reported of a baseball and cricket bat behind Pistorious's bedroom door and a "revolver at his bedside. A machine gun by his window".
Likewise, Michael Sokolove, a New York Times journalist, described being treated to shooting lessons at a local range while interviewing Pistorius last year: "I asked what kind of gun he owned, which he seemed to take as an indication of my broader interest in firearms. I had to tell him I didn't own any. 'But you've shot one, right?' Actually, I hadn't.
"Suddenly, I felt like one of those characters in a movie who must be schooled on how to be more manly. 'We should go to the range,' he said. He fetched his 9mm 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. A few of my shots got close to the bull's eye, which delighted him. 'You should do this more,' he said. 'If you practised, I think you could be pretty deadly.' I asked him how often he came to the range. 'Just sometimes when I can't sleep,' he said."
Steenkamp, meanwhile, appeared besotted with Pistorius, tweeting on the day before her death about getting health smoothies from her "boo" and asking her followers: "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???#getexcited #ValentinesDay". .
Sponsors are keeping quiet on their next step with regard to Pistorious, but M-Net started cancelling its advertising for the Oscars Awards featuring Pistorius and billboards were taken down in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon.