An English astrophysicist was killed by a stray bullet that travelled through a wall and hit him in his bed, according to US authorities.
Dr Matthew Willson, 31, from Chertsey, Surrey, was found with a single gunshot wound to the head when police were called to an apartment complex in Brookhaven, Atlanta, at around 2am last Sunday.
Sgt Jake Kissel, from the Brookhaven Police Department, said that while the shooting is believed to have been a random act, the death is being treated as a homicide.
There have been no arrests so far.
Sgt Kissel said the stray bullet that hit Dr Willson travelled less than 100 yards and entered through an exterior wall of the apartment.
“The two apartment complexes where the gunfire took place and where Matthew was staying, they’re separated by a patch of woods, so they back up to each other,” the officer told the PA news agency.
“We’re saying it’s the reckless discharge of firearms from one apartment complex and the stray bullet travelled through the woods and entered his apartment.”
He said investigators are following up on all leads, adding: “We’re receiving tips from the public and our investigator team has been working around the clock to ensure that we’re tracking down the individuals that are responsible.”
Talking about the incident, the officer added: “It’s the first of its kind in my knowledge to the city of Brookhaven where an innocent bystander is struck and killed by a stray bullet.
“For me and my 15-year law enforcement career, this is the first time that I’ve ever dealt with this type of situation.
“It’s definitely something that’s alarming. It’s a tragic event. It’s very shocking to hear and try and piece together how it actually happened.
“It’s something that’s been… it’s a very tall task.”
Sgt Kissel said: “Our investigation team is treating it as a homicide, even though we believe that it was a random act and complete reckless discharging of firearms, we’re still approaching it as a homicide.
“I think that’s the best way for us to approach it because that’s what we’re used to and we’re capable of tracking down and viewing the evidence and making sure that we’re getting all of those steps and the puzzle pieces put back together, so we are approaching it as a homicide until the evidence dictates something different.”
Police had been called out to the area over reports of gunshots when they received another call that a person had been shot.
Sgt Kissel said when officers arrived on the scene with Dr Willson – who was in the US visiting loved ones – they assisted with aid until paramedics arrived.
“Dr Willson was transported to a local trauma centre where he succumbed to his injuries,” he said, adding: “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.”
According to the Associated Press, Dr Willson was visiting his girlfriend Katherine Shepard and the shooting took place three days into the visit.
AP said Ms Shepard told WSB-TV: “He was supposed to be here for three months because we’ve been long distance for a while.
“I picked him up from the airport, took him to his favourite eating location, and the next day, he’s gone.”
Sgt Kissel said Brookhaven in general is a safe area, adding: “We don’t typically deal with a whole lot of gun violence as far as deaths go.
“So generally it’s a safe area. The Buford Highway and Clairmont Road corridor where the incident took place is one of the more heavily populated areas, so I think that’s what we’re up against and why we’re seeing this type of crime occur where it did.”
Tributes have been paid to Dr Willson from his alma mater, the University of Exeter.
A spokesperson for the university said in a statement: “Matthew Willson was a former PhD student at the University of Exeter and much-loved member of our astrophysics team.
“We have been informed about his tragic death in the US and our hearts go out to his family, friends and colleagues. We are offering support to colleagues at the University who will also want to commemorate his life.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We are supporting the family of a British man following his death in the USA, and are in contact with US authorities.”