A former Verona Area High School student died last month in what is being investigated as a homicide.
Shay Watson, 17, was identified as the victim Aug. 26 by the Dane County medical examiner. According to the medical examiner’s news release, Watson died “from homicidal firearm related trauma.”
Watson, a senior, was a VAHS football player and track athlete last year. He was found dead at his home on the 2700 block of Lyman Lane at 9 p.m. Aug. 25.
Verona Area School District public information officer Kelly Kloepping told the Star in an email Watson was expecting to transfer to Madison West for his senior year, as the school had reached out to VAHS for his records. He previously attended school in Madison.
Fitchburg police chief Chad Brecklin said at an Aug. 26 news conference there would be extra patrols in the Tower Hill neighborhood for the next few days, though he added there did not appear to be any specific danger to the community.
“It does not appear as if this was a random act,” Brecklin said.
Police are asking anyone with information, including home surveillance video from that evening, to call 270-4300. Brecklin said the department, which is working with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and Verona and Middleton police departments in its investigation, believes “a number of individuals” may have information on the incident and is seeking to talk with all of them.
Principal Pam Hammen announced “the unfortunate news of the death of one of our Verona Area High School students which occurred over this past weekend” in an email to parents Aug. 26 at 11:52 a.m.
“First and foremost, our deepest sympathies go to the family of this student,” Hammen wrote. “At this time, we are not able to release the name of the student as the investigation continues, nor do we know any further details about the incident at this time.”
At the time, Watson already had been mentioned in various social media posts, including from someone posting as his brother. His step-grandfather also confirmed his identity to the Wisconsin State Journal Aug. 26.
Verona boys track coach Joff Pedretti said his “heart goes out to Shay Watson and his family during this incredibly difficult time.”
“No one likes seeing a young person with their whole life in front of them lose their chance to make the full impact they were capable of,” Pedretti said.
In Watson’s one season on the track team, he became one of the top long jumpers in VAHS history and “was getting close to being one of the top in the triple jump, as well,” Pedretti said. He also had an effect on the team beyond his performances.
“He had a very cool, calm and relaxed demeanor – so much that I never would’ve anticipated he would be such a strong competitor, but he certainly was,” Pedretti said.
Pedretti said Watson told him on a few occasions he hoped to be a lawyer someday since as he was always “up for a good debate with someone.”
“It’s tough not knowing how the story would unfold,” Pedretti said. “We will certainly miss him.”
The Fitchburg police investigation began Sunday night just after 9 p.m., when officers responded to a report of a dead body, according to a news release from the department.
Hammen’s letter states the district sent the letter to allow families to monitor students’ well being in case they knew the student. The student services team, including counselors, will be available to provide support, according to the letter.
Kloepping told the Star in an email that fifth hour teachers read a prepared statement to their students in class Aug. 27, calling him a “beloved community member” and reiterating that student services staff was available to talk with students or staff members who were struggling.