'Reckless discharge' led to Exeter academic being shot dead in bed in the US

Dr Matthew Willson was killed by a stray bullet while in bed in the US. Credit: Brookhaven Police Department

US police have said that the fatal shooting of a former Exeter student in his bed appeared to be the result of "reckless discharge" in an area with not a lot of gun violence.

Dr Matthew Willson, 31, was found dead at 2am local time last Sunday (January 16) after being shot in an apartment block in Clairmont Road, Buford Highway, Georgia.

Sgt Jake Kissel from the Brookhaven Police Department said: "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.

"Dr Willson was in town from England visiting loved ones when the incident occurred."

He added: "Brookhaven in general is a safe area. 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."

Dr Matthew Willson with his girlfriend. Credit: Brookhaven Police Department

Police had been called out to the area over reports of gunshots when they received another call that a person had been shot.

Sergeant Kissel said the stray bullet that hit Dr Matthew 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."

Sergeant Kissel also said Dr Willson's death is being treated as a homicide.

The officer explained: "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."

The 31-year-old former PhD student was transported to a local trauma center where he succumbed to his injuries.

The Foreign Office confirmed to the PA news agency that it was supporting the family of a British man following his death in the US.

"We are supporting the family of a British man following his death in the USA, and are in contact with US authorities," a spokesperson for the Foreign Office said.