BROOKHAVEN, Ga. — Matthew Willson was only three days into his visit from England to Brookhaven to see his girlfriend when tragedy blindsided both of them.
“He was supposed to be here for three months because we’ve been long distance for a while,” said Katherine Shepard, his girlfriend of three years. “I picked him up from the airport, took him to his favorite eating location, and the next day, he’s gone.”
The 31-year-old Willson died early Sunday morning when a stray bullet that came from a neighboring apartment complex hit him in the head in bed next to his girlfriend, according to Brookhaven Police.
Willson and Shepard met while studying astronomy at Georgia State University, before Willson went on to get his Ph.D in astrophysics.
“He made everyone around him smile and laugh,” said sister Kate Willson, sitting next to Shepard, “and he always brought joy to the people that were around him.”
The couple woke up to the sound of more than 30 gunshots coming from an apartment complex on Buford Highway, directly behind Shepard’s on Clairmont Road. The two buildings are separated by trees, brush and a significant distance. A bullet somehow traveled through Shepard’s wall and into her bed, hitting Willson, according to Shepard.
“I held him for another 20 minutes while we waited for the ambulance,” she said. “And while we were waiting, there were more gunshots fired. I was just trying to keep him there, you know, talking to him.”
He would later die at a nearby hospital, according to police.
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Investigators need help finding the shooter or shooters, who they believe were firing at random.
“I don’t come from a country that has gun culture or any kind of gun crime like this,” said Willson’s sister, who is also from England. “It’s even more shocking for me that my innocent brother was caught in the crossfire.”
Neighbors tell Channel 2 Action News that random gunfire has been an issue in the area behind the Park on Clairmont Apartments for months. One man shared video where gunfire can be heard in the background on Dec. 11. He shared another video where even more gunshots can be heard on Jan. 16, ten minutes after Willson had been shot.
For the loved ones of Matthew Willson, they’re pleading with the public to come forward with any information that could lead to an arrest.
“I would love to see a change in our society where this doesn’t happen,” said Shepard. “But for us, and for this one incident, I want this person to pay.”
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