A star cyclist shot dead, a yoga teacher on the run and a boyfriend shunned by his sponsors

Homicide of 25-year-old hailed as world’s best gravel cyclist rocks jolts the tighknit cycling community, Bevan Hurley reports

Wednesday 25 May 2022 18:23

A month before she was shot dead in an Austin apartment, Anna Moriah ‘Mo’ Wilson beat 30 of the top gravel racing cyclists in the United States to claim the Fuego 80k at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterrey, California. It was arguably the biggest win of her career.

Writing the day after her 9 April triumph in her Substack newsletter Mail with Mo, the 25-year-old Vermont native described her state of euphoria as she drained every ounce of her energy to surge to victory.

“I kept going – to that deep, dark place of complete emptiness. This is one of the feelings that I believe every bike racer lives for – the emptying.

“It’s a beautiful paradox, that emptying yourself can be such a fulfilling experience,” she wrote.

“Elation, disbelief, and just sheer excitement spread through my body.”

Ms Wilson’s homicide has left family, friends and the broader cycling community in mourning, and raised questions about why police allowed their prime suspect and alleged love rival Kaitlin Armstrong out of their custody.

According to VeloNews, Ms Wilson followed up her victory in Monterrey with a win at the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego on 30 April, and arrived in Austin on 10 May as the favourite to win the Gravel Locos in Hico, on 14 May.

She was staying at a friend’s apartment in Maple Avenue, east Austin, and on 11 May arranged to meet fellow pro-cyclist Colin Strickland, who according to a police affidavit she had been romantically involved with.

The pair went swimming at the Deep Eddy Pool public aquatic centre in Austin before going for a meal at nearby Pool Burger, Mr Strickland, 35, told investigators. He dropped Ms Wilson off at her friend’s home in Maple Avenue at around 8.30pm.

One minute later, a neighbour’s surveillance camera captured a dark-coloured SUV outside the address that matched a vehicle belonging to Mr Strickland’s girlfriend of three years  Kaitlin Armstrong, a real estate agent and part-time yoga instructor who also cycled competitively.

Later that night Ms Wilson was found bleeding and unconscious with multiple gunshot wounds by the friend she was staying with. Despite attempts to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to a police affidavit, Mr Strickland told detectives in a 12 May interview that Ms Armstrong had returned to their home in her SUV around 9.20pm.

Colin Strickland is cooperating with the police investigation into Mo Wilson’s homicide

Mr Strickland said he struck up a relationship with Ms Wilson in October 2021 when he and Ms Armstrong were on a brief hiatus. Texts between he and Ms Wilson showed that she was under the impression they were still dating.

According to the affidavit, a friend called police on 14 May to say that Ms Armtrong had learned of the “on again, off again” relationship in January.

Another caller, identified by the pseudonym Jane to shield her identity from Ms Armstong, said she “became furious and was shaking in anger” and stated that she wanted to kill Ms Wilson.

She began calling Ms Wilson and ordering her to stay away from her boyfriend, according to the affidavit.

In an interview with police, Mr Strickland said around that time he purchased 9mm handguns for himself and Ms Armstrong.

Detectives compared shell casings found at the scene to Ms Armstrong’s handgun. “The potential that the same firearm was involved is significant,” detectives wrote in the affidavit.

US Marshals are leading a state-wide manhunt for Kaitlin Armstrong

During his police interview, Mr Strickland spoke in glowing terms about Ms Wilson’s prospects as a pro-cyclist, describing her as the best gravel cyclist in the United States, and possibly the world.

He was not nearly as flattering about his girlfriend Ms Armstrong, also a “competitive” cyclist, telling officers he had asked her not to ride with him because she “holds him back”.

Mr Strickland did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Independent.

In a statement to the Austin American-Statesman, the pro-cyclist said he would continue cooperating with police “until some form of justice is served”.

“There is no way to adequately express the regret and torture I feel about my proximity to this horrible crime,” he added.

He has not been charged with any crimes.

On Tuesday, VeloNews reported that several sponsors had cut ties with Mr Strickland.

The same day that Mr Strickland was interviewed, Ms Armstrong was brought in for questioning.

Ms Armstrong was asked if she had heard what had happened.

According to the arrest warrant, she told detectives her boyfriend had come home and told her that “one of the woman [sic] in the cycling community had passed away”.

Police said that she was “was very still and did not move at all” when answering.

When she was confronted about her boyfriend “talking to this girl” and told that her name had cropped up in the investigation, Ms Armstrong “continued to stay quiet and completely still”, the warrant states.

She also had “no explanation” when she was confronted with surveillance footage of her car close to the crime scene and “did not make any denials surrounding the statements presented to her,” the warrant says.

A wanted poster for Kaitlin Armstrong, who has not been seen since 13 May

When detectives suggested “maybe you were upset and just in the area,” she allegedly nodded in agreement.

Police said that she became angry when asked about Mr Strickland meeting with Ms Wilson.

“I didn’t have any idea that he saw or even went out with this girl… as of recently,” she allegedly told investigators.

Investigators then “confronted Armstrong on how seeing her vehicle in the area, coupled with the statements made by Strickland, made things not look too good,” according to the warrant.

However, during the interview, detectives learned that the arrest warrant was not valid and so she was free to leave.

After relaying her right to leave, Ms Armstrong got up and left.

Ms Armstrong has not been seen since 13 May. She has deleted her social media accounts, and references to her real estate work in Austin have also been taken down.

Investigators said that the suspect believed they were in a relationship based on this exchange.

She was charged with first-degree murder the next day, and is the subject of a major manhunt by US Marshals and state and local law enforcement agencies in Texas. She is believed to have fled in a black Jeep Cherokee with Texas plates LDZ5608.

A text message on the victim’s phone from January – the month Ms Armstrong suspected an affair – suggests her relationship with Mr Strickland had become romantic again.

Moriah Wilson

“Hey! Sooo I would like to talk to you at some point,” it read.

“I had originally texted you on Friday but [it] appears my texts aren’t going through again. This weekend was strange for me and I just want to know what’s going on. If you just want to be friends (seems to be the case) then that’s cool, but I’d like to talk about it cause honestly my mind has been going [in] circles and I don’t know what to think.”

Mr Strickland replied to the message the following day, writing: “Hey Mo—I feel very shitty for putting you in a position where you don’t feel comfortable.

“Kaitlin came along the [sic] go to a meeting about the sprinter/spartan hotel project. In hindsight, this was not a good idea.”

Deputy US Marshall Brandon Filla told KXAN they had turned Austin “upside down” searching for Ms Armstrong, and believe she is most likely to have remained in the area. She reportedly travelled to New York City after Ms Wilson’s death, officials said.

“She built relationships amongst, you know, people here in the Austin community,” he told the news outlet.

“There a lot of ‘what ifs’ and we figured right now with her involvement here in the Austin community, that she would still likely be here.”

Ms Armstong may have changed her appearance by dying her hair or cutting it shorter, Mr Filla added.

‘I know how she thinks and I know what she believes’

On Tuesday, Michael Armstrong, told ABC’s Good Morning America in an interview that he doesn’t believe that his daughter could have killed Ms Wilson. He said there are many “unanswered questions” about what happened.

“I know her. I know how she thinks and I know what she believes. And I know that she just would not do something like this,” Mr Armstrong said.

Ms Wilson’s family have established a GoFundme page in order to raise funds to “help fund community organisations that help youth find self-confidence, strength”.

“In her short time here, Moriah inspired many, lived fully, and loved fiercely,” her family wrote.

Mother Karen Wilson told the Boston Globe that her daughter had given up the chance to compete in several gravel races last summer so she could travel to Africa to help train young cyclists.

“She said that was the highlight of her summer,” Karen Wilson said.

Addressing reports of the “love triangle”, her family issued a statement to KXAN denying she had been in a relationship at the time of her death.

“While we will not elaborate about the ongoing investigation, we do feel it’s important to clarify that at the time of her death, those closest to her clearly understood, directly from Moriah, that she was not in a romantic relationship with anyone,” the family said in the statement.

What is gravel racing?

According to bikeradar.com, gravel racing “sits somewhere between road, cyclocross and mountain bike racing” and events are usually held on open gravel roads and dirt tracks sometimes with some stretches of paved road.

The discipline has only been around for a few years, and is said to promote a “strong ethos of inclusivity and fun”, while still being highly competitive for serious racers.

Cyclists in the tight knit plan to hold a memorial for Ms Wilson at Republic Square Park in Austin on Sunday night, according to a Facebook event.

They will ride the short distance to Deep Eddy Pool, where Ms Wilson visited on the day she died.

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