Pictured on bed he would die in hours later: British scientist, 31, who was shot in the head as he slept by stray bullet fired 800ft away – as girlfriend who lay next to him recalls the horror

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Matthew Willson, 31, was hit in the head by a shot fired from around 780ft awayMoments earlier, he'd been woken by sound of 'rapid gunfire' as he slept alongside his American partner Katherine Shepard, 26Miss Shepard told Daily Mail: 'I felt the bed move - Matt was possibly getting up - and there was a tiny explosion in our room... then I heard [his] breathing change'Dr Willson, from Chertsey, Surrey, was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning but he was pronounced dead on TuesdayHis devastated sister Kate, 28, who flew to Atlanta from her home in Sweden to be by his hospital bedside, last night said: 'We want justice for Matthew' 

A young British astrophysicist was shot dead in bed with his girlfriend when a stray bullet smashed through the wall of her apartment.

Matthew Willson, 31, was hit in the head by a shot fired from around 780ft away – moments after being woken by the sound of ‘rapid gunfire’ as he slept alongside his American partner Katherine Shepard, 26.

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Dr Willson, described by his family as a ‘beautiful soul’, had only arrived in the US two days earlier to be reunited with his girlfriend of three years, who he had met while studying for his post-doctorate at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Devastated Miss Shepard told the Daily Mail of the moment she realised he had been hit after hearing up to 50 shots outside the building.

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‘I was kneeling on my bed looking out of the window to see if I could see anything,’ she said. 

Devoted: This is the last picture taken of Matthew Willson with his girlfriend Katherine Shepard after he flew to America to see her. The 31-year-old was hit in the head by a shot fired from around 780ft away – moments after being woken by the sound of 'rapid gunfire' as he slept alongside Miss Shepard

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Devoted: This is the last picture taken of Matthew Willson with his girlfriend Katherine Shepard after he flew to America to see her. The 31-year-old was hit in the head by a shot fired from around 780ft away – moments after being woken by the sound of ‘rapid gunfire’ as he slept alongside Miss Shepard

Devastated Miss Shepard told the Daily Mail of the moment she realised he had been hit after hearing up to 50 shots outside the building. 'I was kneeling on my bed looking out of the window to see if I could see anything. I felt the bed move – Matt was possibly getting up – and there was a tiny explosion in our room,' she said. (Above, the apartment block where the couple were sleeping)

Devastated Miss Shepard told the Daily Mail of the moment she realised he had been hit after hearing up to 50 shots outside the building. ‘I was kneeling on my bed looking out of the window to see if I could see anything. I felt the bed move – Matt was possibly getting up – and there was a tiny explosion in our room,’ she said. (Above, the apartment block where the couple were sleeping)

‘I felt the bed move – Matt was possibly getting up – and there was a tiny explosion in our room.

‘Then I heard Matt’s breathing change and I asked if he was OK.’

She said it was when he started to slump over that she turned on the light: ‘I saw he’d been shot in the head and screamed.’

As her flatmate called the emergency services, Miss Shepard tried to administer first aid. 

When an ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, shots were still ringing out from an area near a car park about 780ft away.

‘I knelt on the bed holding a towel to his head and talking to him and shaking him whenever he started closing his eyes,’ Miss Shepard said.

‘He looked like he was looking at me but he wasn’t talking at all and he was struggling to breathe and would occasionally start shaking. I just felt panic.’

Dr Willson was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning but he was pronounced dead on Tuesday.

He lived in Chertsey, Surrey, with his parents and worked remotely for the University of Liege as a post-doctoral researcher.


The death is being investigated as a homicide, but investigators said Dr Willson was not a target. 

Police said: ‘The incident appears to be a random act involving individuals participating in the reckless discharge of firearms.’

Miss Shepard last night demanded justice, saying: ‘I think they should go to prison for the rest of their lives. 

‘I can’t stand the thought they might not even know what they’ve done and they’re still out there.’

Dr Willson’s family have offered an undisclosed cash reward for any information.

'I knelt on the bed holding a towel to his head and talking to him and shaking him whenever he started closing his eyes,' Miss Shepard said. Dr Willson was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning but he was pronounced dead on Tuesday

‘I knelt on the bed holding a towel to his head and talking to him and shaking him whenever he started closing his eyes,’ Miss Shepard said. Dr Willson was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning but he was pronounced dead on Tuesday

His devastated sister Kate, 28, who flew to Atlanta from her home in Sweden to be by his hospital bedside, last night said: ‘We want justice for Matthew. We have been robbed of him because someone was playing around with a gun, there is no logic to it. 

‘It is such a senseless act and that has taken Matthew away from us.

‘He had so much to give and he wanted a family and to settle down and all of that with Katherine who is part of our family.’

Paying tribute to her brother, she added: ‘He was such a wise and joyful person, such a beautiful soul. He was a real light in the world. I got here on the Monday and got to say goodbye. 

‘He was already gone but I got to say goodbye to his physical presence in this world.’

The couple had been excited about reuniting after being separated since last summer – and had planned to spend three months together in the US.

Miss Willson said her parents were ‘broken’, adding: ‘They can’t even comprehend that this happened to their beautiful son.’

Miss Shepard’s flatmate Aman Kar said he heard around 30 shots being fired intermittently in the space of 20 minutes. 

He added: ‘I heard Katherine screaming and I went into her room.

‘She’d been looking out of the window and kept saying, “Matt’s been shot! Matt’s been shot!”‘

Mr Kar said a single bullet had come through an outside wall under the bedroom window, passing through the headboard of Miss Shepard’s bed and hitting Dr Willson in the head, leaving a ‘giant wound’.

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