Bay Area Paralympians struggled with their emotions Thursday in the wake of reports that Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic champion and poster child of the disabled-sports movement, had been charged with the murder of his model girlfriend in the latest head-shaking episode in the world of sports.

"It is a strange time to see all these high-profile athletes popping up" in the news, said Trooper Johnson, a four-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player who lives in Hayward.

The South African known as the Blade Runner will face charges Friday for allegedly shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, four times sometime before dawn in Pistorius's house in a gated Pretoria community. The incident has sent shockwaves through South Africa and beyond because Pistorius was a worldwide sports icon who competed in the 400 meters at the London Games against able-bodied runners.

"Nobody in the Paralympic community ever thought this would happen and nobody ever thought this kind of attention would happen to a Paralympic athlete," said Johnson, paralyzed in a car accident when he was 17 years old as a result of a drinking and driving accident.

"It's shocking and it's sad," added Los Gatos' Shirley Reilly, who won the London Paralympics marathon and two other track medals last year. "Everybody looked up to him. He has done a lot of positive things."

Redwood City's Kelly Crowley, a two-time Paralympian in cycling and swimming, struggled to put the development into context saying, "I don't know what I think. I don't know him. I don't the people around him. Will we ever know all the truth and details?"

But this much was clear: "This isn't the image this person represented," said Crowley, who was in Colorado Springs, Colo., helping coach U.S. swimmers. "What he represented until a couple days ago was athleticism and incredible determination."

Johnson, Youth Sports Programs Coordinator at the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program in Berkeley, said Pistorius changed the image of Paralympic sports.

"Some people had no understanding of Paralympic sports or athletes," he said. "Some of those would have never heard of the Paralympics. They had to sit there and watch him perform and succeed on some level in the Olympic Games. That opened those doors to the Paralympic movement to a much broader audience."

Now the community hopes to survive a dark episode the way others have tried while experiencing the fall of sports heroes Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire and Tiger Woods. But the latest chapter might be more akin to the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the 1990s.

"There's always going to be something shocking because we look up to these athletes," said Reilly, who was born six weeks early in Alaska, resulting in a series of medical complications that left her wheelchair bound.

Adam Elix, the Paralympic Sport Club of Silicon Valley's program coordinator, hopes Pistrious' case doesn't detract from the Paralympic movement that has gained traction because of the runner's exploits.

"We've seen for years and years so many things have gone on with our sports athletes we've become numb to it," Elix said.

His hope: "Maybe people are finding out who Oscar is now and can learn what he has done" on the track.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.