Oscar Pistorius ‘went into combat mode’

Months before he killed his girlfriend, Oscar Pistorius described how he drew his gun and went into “combat mode” after hearing a possible intruder at his home, a South African firearms expert told the athlete’s murder trial.
Aimee Pistorius, sister of Oscar talks to June Steenkamp, left, mother of the late Reeva Seenkamp. Picture: ReutersAimee Pistorius, sister of Oscar talks to June Steenkamp, left, mother of the late Reeva Seenkamp. Picture: Reuters
Aimee Pistorius, sister of Oscar talks to June Steenkamp, left, mother of the late Reeva Seenkamp. Picture: Reuters

The noise turned out to be a washing machine, the High Court in Pretoria yesterday heard.

Sean Rens, manager of the International Firearm Training Academy in Walkerville town, also said he had many conversations about firearms with athlete Pistorius, who is accused of murdering Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February last year.

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He said the double-amputee runner had “a great love and enthusiasm” for guns. Mr Rens said he met Pistorius in 2012 and trained at a gun range with him.

Mr Rens said the Olympian asked him to provide him with a revolver and was also seeking to collect other guns.

In one conversation, Pistorius described how he was startled by a noise at home and decided to clear the house by drawing his gun and checking rooms, according to Mr Rens.

“He went into what we call ‘code red’ or combat mode,” Mr Rens said. “When he came to the source of the noise, it was the laundry or something.”

Pistorius, 27, had tweeted about the incident in November 2012: “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!”

Pistorius says he killed Ms Steenkamp, 29, by accident before dawn, shooting her through a closed toilet door after mistaking her for an intruder in his home.

But prosecutors say he deliberately killed her after an argument. Ms Steenkamp’s mother, June, was in court for only the second time yesterday.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked Mr Rens to describe how Pistorius was quizzed on how to handle a firearm in various scenarios, for example when two unidentified men approach the house of a gun owner; then when they break into the house, begin to steal belongings and order the gun owner to leave; and if the men threaten to kill the gun owner, who is behind a security gate in the house.

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In each case, Mr Rens said, Pistorius was asked if it was “OK” to fire at the men and Pistorius correctly answered “No”. Pistorius correctly said he was only entitled to shoot at them if they advanced on him with a gun, according to Mr Rens.

Mr Rens said he was introduced to Pistorius in May 2012, a few months before the runner made history by competing at the London Olympics.

Pistorius first wanted Mr Rens to find a “specific” gun for him, Mr Rens testified, a Smith & Wesson 500 revolver handgun. He also listed the other guns Pistorius was hoping to procure under a collector’s licence, including a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, the civilian version of a Vector .223-calibre assault rifle used by South African police and three shotguns.

Pistorius applied to the police for the licences for six of these guns just three weeks before he shot dead Steenkamp in his home using his 9mm Parabellum pistol, which he had already licensed for self-defence.

Later, police photographer Bennie van Staden told the court about the images he took when he arrived at Pistorius’s house on the night of the killing. One photograph of the runner, taken in his garage, showed unexplained scuff marks on his bloodied prosthetic limbs.

Another from his bedroom showed a box with a label that said “Testis compositum”.

The runner’s representatives have identified the substance as an herbal remedy used for “muscle recovery”. A product by that name also is sold as a sexual enhancer and contains the testicles, heart and embryo of pigs, among other ingredients.

The trial continues.