British astrophysicist killed by stray bullet as he lay in bed

·3-min read
Dr Matthew Willson died from a gunshot wound to the head
Dr Matthew Willson died from a gunshot wound to the head

A British astrophysicist visiting his girlfriend in Atlanta was killed as he lay in bed by a bullet "recklessly" fired from a building 500 metres away that broke through a wall.

Matthew Willson, from Chertsey, Surrey had only landed in America two days before and was asleep in bed when he died in the apparently "random act" at 2am on Sunday.

Mr Willson is understood to have been staying with his girlfriend Kate Shepard in the leafy town of Brookhaven, ten miles north of Atlanta. She was also in bed at the time of the incident.

When officers arrived, they found Mr Willson lying in his bed with a single gunshot wound to the head.

The 31-year-old, who had previously been a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia State University, was rushed to hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries.

Police have launched a murder inquiry and yesterday appealed for witnesses, describing the Briton as an “innocent victim” of “a senseless act.”

Matthew Willson (left) with his family - Twitter
Matthew Willson (left) with his family - Twitter

In a tribute posted on Instagram, his sister Kate Easingwood Willson, a molecular biology PhD student based in Sweden, said: “This world is so unfair.”

Local police Sergeant Jacob Kissel told WSB-TV last night: “This was a senseless act - this was an innocent victim. He was here visiting from England. He was visiting a loved one. He had just flown into the Atlanta area.

“We lean on the public to understand that this is a tragic event, and we hope that they may come forward with any information they may have.”

Mr Willson, a keen footballer, also studied at Royal Holloway university in London, Exeter University in Devon and Liege university in Belgium.

He started work as a postdoctoral researcher in Georgia in 2017 and stayed for two years, his social media suggests.

In a statement, police said that at approximately 2am on Sunday, they responded to “multiple 911 calls" regarding shots fired.

“Officers assisted with rendering aid until paramedics arrived on scene Dr Willson was transported to a local trauma centre where he succumbed to his injuries.”

The statement added: “This incident appears to be a random act involving individuals participating in the reckless discharge of firearm(s) which led to the tragic death of Dr. Willson.”

Police have offered a cash reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest. None have been made so far.

Maps of the area suggest that the bullet could have travelled as far as 500 metres through a thicket of trees. Usually, pistols are only accurate to around 100 metres, but this does not appear to be a targeted shooting and rounds can remain deadly for much further than their accurate range.

Rifles, which are legal in Georgia, can be accurate up to 500 metres.

Atlanta has been plagued by gun violence for years, with 750 shooting incidents reported in 2021, but Sgt Kissel said that Brookhaven was “generally a safe area.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are supporting the family of a British man following his death in the USA, and are in contact with US authorities.”

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