A British doctor visiting the United States was fatally shot by a stray bullet fired "recklessly" from a neighboring block of flats in Brookhaven, a city near Atlanta on Sunday, as he lay next to his girlfriend in bed. Matthew Willson, 31, from Surrey, was hit in the head by a bullet while he was sleeping in the room.
Willson was visiting his California-born partner Kate Shepard, a physicist and honor roll athlete when the tragic incident happened. Police said they received a call from Shepard. On reaching they found her "rendering aid" to her boyfriend after he was shot in the head.
Willson, a postdoctoral scientific researcher from leafy Chertsey just west of London, had only been in the United States for two days when he died in the freak incident. He was sleeping next to Shepard when the stray bullet came through the wall and struck him in the head. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators suspect the rogue round came from somebody recklessly discharging a firearm in a nearby apartment. Police is treating the incident as homicide but no arrests were made in the case as of early Friday.
Police said they received a call around 2am on Sunday about a "reckless discharge of a firearm" in an apartment block on Buford Highway. As they were preparing to reach the scene, they received another call on 911 from another block of flats, where Willson was staying. The caller said that Willson had sustained a gunshot injury to the head.
On reaching the apartment they found Shepard "rendering aid" to Willson. However, he couldn't be saved and died on the way to the hospital.
Sergeant Jacob Kissel told WSB-TV: "This was a senseless act - this was an innocent victim. She and her boyfriend were laying in bed. He was here visiting from England. He was visiting a loved one. He had just flown in to 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."
Police said an investigation is still on and they are searching for the suspect. According to report, the freak accident happened after two groups were playing with one or more guns and then began firing. One of the bullets went through the wall and hit Willson in the head.
The bullet appears to have flown a distance of at least 800ft (260yds) through a small forest and into the apartment through the bedroom wall. A devastated Shepard spoke to The Sun and described her trauma.
"We were in bed when we heard a gun going off. At first there were just a few gunshots, then there were more and it sounded as if whoever it was had emptied out their clip. I turned to Matthew and said, 'I'm going to call the cops'. His last words were, 'Sure, I'm sure they are just messing around'," she told the outlet.
"Then the shots started again and that's when I heard a small explosion by the side of the bed. I remember a piece of the wall hitting me on the leg. I turned on the light, looked round and Matthew was slumped in front of me. I could see he had been shot in the head," a sobbing Shepard added.
Shepard lives in Atlanta, while Willson is known to have studied at the city's Georgia State University and also has relatives in the area.
Willson had worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia State University for two years, having also worked at the University of Liege in Belgium. However, he had recently been living back in Britain. Today his family requested privacy in the aftermath of their son's tragic death, adding: "We just need some peace."
Shepard, also an astrophysicist, said: "We had a long-distance relationship. He would stay up late to call me when he was back in England after I had finished work."