Reeva Steenkamp: the life and death of a rising star

Oct 27, 2014

Oscar Pistorius has been jailed for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp, the model, law graduate and domestic violence campaigner

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Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp was a "rising star" in the modelling world with plans to qualify as a legal advocate when she was shot dead by Oscar Pistorius on 14 February last year. Her friends and family were angered when the athlete was acquitted of her murder last month, but her mother now says that she is satisfied with the five-year jail sentence Pistorius received for culpable homicide in connection with Steenkamp's death.

The 29-year-old had been dating Pistorius for three months and planned to tell him she loved him for the first time in his Valentine's Day card – but she never had the chance to see him open it. The athlete, known as 'Blade Runner', admitted to shooting his girlfriend but insists that he mistook her for a dangerous intruder.

Who was Reeva Steenkamp?

Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp was born in Cape Town on 19 August 1983 to horse trainer Barry Steenkamp and his second wife June, who was originally from Blackburn, England. The family later moved to Port Elizabeth, where Reeva completed a law degree at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Kerry Smith, a close friend from university, tells the BBC that Reeva was "more than just a pretty face, she had a beautiful heart and ambition". Smith says Reeva always had drive, spending much of her time reading books, but it was a horse riding accident that helped her come out of her shell. She broke her back and was bedridden for two months during her final year at university. "I think it made her realise that things can happen so quickly," says Smith, who was one of the first people to visit her in hospital after the accident. Reeva later moved to Johannesburg to further her modelling career. Photographer Mark West, who worked with Reeva, said she had a "successful career" before her death and many people in the industry were "watching her with great expectation – you could see that Reeva was going places". She became the face of Avon in South Africa, made the cover of FHM and starred in a television reality show called Tropika Island of Treasure – the last episode of which aired after her death. She had also applied to the Bar in 2011 and hoped to qualify as a legal advocate before she was 30. In court, Pistorius described Reeva as "a very good Christian" and said she would pray about "all the small things in life". 

What about her charity work?

"It's ironic that Reeva Steenkamp lost her life at the hands of a man with a gun," reports Vanity Fair. "She and her mother were passionate, long-time advocates for women suffering from violence and abuse." Before moving to Johannesburg, Reeva had been involved with an allegedly emotionally abusive boyfriend. Having cut her ties with him, she dreamed of opening a shelter for abused women and children. On the day before her death, she had urged her followers on Twitter to wear black the day after Valentine's Day in protest at violence against women. Had she lived, she would have delivered a speech to a group of teenage girls the following day, urging them not to give in to emotional abuse. "Reeva was going to tell her young school audience how important it was to be loved by others, not for your physical appearance but for who you are," reports CBS News. "And she was going to close her remarks by urging the young girls to 'Be brave, always see the positive' and to 'Go home and tell your parents, siblings, neighbours that they are appreciated'."

How did Reeva and Oscar meet?

The couple met on 4 November 2013 through a mutual friend at a car event. Reeva agreed to accompany Pistorius to the SA Sports Awards and they subsequently started dating. She was living with her best friend Gina Myers, Gina's sister Kim and their parents Cecil and Desi in Johannesburg, often describing them as her "Joburg family". One of Reeva's final messages was sent to Cecil and Desi at around 10pm on 13 February to say: "Hi guys, I'm too tired. It's too far to drive. I'm sleeping at Oscar's tonight. See you tomorrow." Instead, the family spent the next day identifying her body. 

In what state was their relationship in the run-up to the shooting?

This has been the subject of dispute during the trial. The prosecution has quoted a text message sent by Reeva to Pistorius in which she said, "I'm scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me." The defence has said that the vast majority of messages portray a normal, loving relationship. In court, Pistorius's manager said that shortly before the shooting the athlete was planning trips to Brazil and Manchester with Reeva – and suggested that she would be the first of Pistorius's girlfriends to accompany him to an overseas athletics meeting.

Since the end of the trial, Reeva's mother June has suggested that their relationship was coming to an end at the time of the shooting. "She had confided to me that she hadn't slept with him," she writes in a book due to be published nextr week. "They'd shared a bed, but she was scared to take the relationship to that level... I believe their relationship was coming to an end. In her heart of hearts, she didn't think it was making either of them happy."

Where was Reeva when she was shot?

Reeva was locked inside Pistorius's toilet cubicle when she was shot. The athlete claims she must have gone to the toilet while he was not looking and then he mistook her for an intruder, while the prosecution claims she was hiding in the toilet after a fight. Tom Wolmarans, a former police forensics expert and witness for the defence, said he believed Steenkamp was standing close behind the toilet door when the first two bullets hit her hip and arm. He believed she was falling as she was hit by a subsequent bullet that caused her fatal head wound. Captain Christiaan Mangena, a ballistics expert for the prosecution, said Steenkamp was standing in the toilet cubicle when she was hit in the right hip, but believed she fell to the floor and was then hit in the arm and head as she crossed her arms over her head to protect herself. The prosecution's account would suggest that Pistorius paused between the shots and may have heard Steenkamp scream before firing the final, fatal bullet – whereas Wolmarans claims the shots were fired in quick succession. 

How did Reeva die?

The exact order in which the bullets hit Reeva was never agreed by both sides. State pathologist Gert Saayman, who carried out Reeva's autopsy, said the bullet that hit her in the head would have caused her to lose consciousness as it fractured her skull and entered her brain. "The wound to the head was incapacitating and probably almost instantly fatal," he told the court. However he said that any one of the bullet wounds to her head, hip and elbow could have potentially caused her death because of the extent of the bleeding. Pistorius used an expanding bullet designed to cause maximum tissue damage. The "black talon" or "ranger" ammunition, made by US-based firm Winchester, is designed to "open up, flatten out and mushroom when striking human tissue", said Saayman. If Reeva had lived, he added, she would not have been able to use her arm and her hip wound would have affected her balance.  

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It is very sad to know that this beautiful, giving person had her life cut short by this trigger-happy, quick tempered thug. Hopefully, justice will prevail.

I hope so too. It's good to see this article, about Reeva instead of her murderer

Why was the first variable you commented on 'beautiful'? Do you not think that someone 'un-beautiful' would be more tragic? It is a bit like saying 'wealthy' compared to 'poor'. This woman had what 30 years of adulation. Maybe her being taken out is justice?

Trevor Thomson, shut up!!! You don't know what your talking about!! IDIOT!!!

Beautiful can be beyond beautiful in appearance. She was within as she was on the surface.

You sound like a very dangerous man indeed to me. I think you need psychiatric counselling pronto. Furthermore, what makes you think that just because a little girl is born beautiful she is idolized? Not so, I do assure you. Many are very cruelly treated through jealousy. In fact, that might be more the case than not. A great many more are abused by men.

I agree.

What Oscar's twitchy finger has done can not be undone but I have been following the daily news since I found out of the killing and now I dream of myself using similar weapon with the dum dum bullets, point it at Pisstorius's head and blow his brains out (I don't know what that says about me - I just feel it would be justice) - I only hope this man is locked up, if necessary in a loony bin and not allowed out in the public

Agreed. Spoilt brat, who always got his own way and thought nothing of killing his girlfriend out of jealousy . Reevas mistake was idolising the brat! Very sad