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Fatal shooting of rising star Moriah ‘Mo’ Wilson stuns Bay Area cycling world

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 5/24/2022 By Danielle Echeverria

The slaying of competitive bicyclist Anna Moriah “Mo” Wilson, in what Texas authorities suggested was a jealousy-motivated attack, has left her Bay Area friends and cycling community reeling at the eclipse of a racing star who had only begun to wow her sport.

Austin police issued an arrest warrant for Kaitlin Marie Armstrong of Austin, suspected of murdering the 25-year-old athlete who lived in San Francisco until just a few weeks ago when she left her job to devote herself full time to competitive riding. A police affidavit suggested that Armstrong, 35, believed Wilson was romantically involved with Armstrong’s boyfriend, cyclist Colin Strickland, although Wilson’s family said Tuesday that she was not in a relationship with anyone.

Officials said Wilson was found shot to death May 11 in a friend’s house in Austin where she had traveled for a bike race. U.S. Marshals are now seeking Armstrong as a fugitive.

The killing stunned the Northern California cycling community, with friends trying to process the tragedy that had befallen a well-liked athlete whose star was on the rise in the bicycle genre of gravel riding.

“I think the craziest thing about her was how much everyone was drawn to her,” said Helena Gilbert-Snyder, a friend and fellow race cyclist. “She was very kind and thoughtful, and she never really bragged. She never sought out the spotlight — it just kind of found her.”

And it found her quickly over the past year or so, as she began to rise to dominance in the gravel riding world. She soon had a “breakout year” that sent her blasting into this year on a string of wins, said Craig Dalton of Mill Valley, host of the podcast The Gravel Ride.

“What was unquestionably confirmed was that she was a rising a superstar in the sport of gravel cycling ... that she was going to be someone to watch in 2022,” he told The Chronicle.

A Vermont native, Wilson had moved to the Bay Area in 2019, after graduating from Dartmouth, to work for Specialized, a Morgan Hill-based bicycle parts company where Gilbert-Snyder also worked. Wilson, an alpine skier at Dartmouth, was fairly new to competitive cycling. She found her niche in gravel cycling, which features a drop-handle bar bike with fatter tires for riding on unpaved roads and trails and can involve many terrain types.

Her initial successes led to her win at the Big Sugar race in Bentonville in October, “a big event on the calendar,” said Dalton. “I wouldn’t say it was a surprise but it was definitely putting the rest of the women on notice that she was making her move.”

Her success against full-time athletes while still working full time as a demand planner at Specialized led her to quit her job recently to devote herself to competitive racing, moving back to Vermont. Interviewed on Dalton’s podcast in December, she described her bittersweet feelings at leaving and her love of the Bay Area. She called it “the best place to train.”

“I don’t want to leave. It’s too good,” she said. “I’m always in awe of the riding around here. … It always takes my breath away.”

As the manhunt was under way Tuesday for Armstrong, her father Michael Armstrong told ABC News “Good Morning America” that she would not have committed the alleged killing. According to the police affidavit, Kaitlin Armstrong’s SUV was seen on surveillance video outside the home where Wilson was found shot to death. Police questioned Armstrong on May 13 but the warrant for her arrest wasn’t issued until May 19.

“I know her and I know how she thinks and I know what she believes, and I know that she just would not do something like this,” Michael Armstrong told ABC. “I know her.”

Zachary Rynew, who runs the Gravel Bike California website, interviewed Wilson for Instagram posts in January and February and said following her was exciting as she was shaping up for a “bigger year than anyone could have expected.”

“I think everyone was excited for her, because it’s hard to do this well in the sport of cycling,” he said.

Wilson’s versatility was on display when she surprised many by defeating a high-level field — in mountain biking — in the open women’s division of the Sea Otter Classic’s Fuego 80-kilometer race this year in Monterey.

Said Dalton: “100 percent, everybody was talking about her. She went from someone who was showing evidence of strong standing in 2021 to someone who was the leader of the pack.”

Gilbert-Snyder called her friend “probably one of the best in the country, if not the world. She was going to get there,” and her career as a cyclist was only getting started.

But beyond being a fierce competitor, Wilson was known as an upbeat, friendly person who didn’t take herself too seriously.

Rynew was impressed with how “graceful” Wilson was in handling her newfound success.

“She was just humble and not ego-driven,” he said. “I think it was just real special to see someone with that level of competitive drive still be so well-balanced. It’s really heartbreaking.”

Dalton said Wilson “was incredibly friendly and earnest and had a very nice energy to her.”

She also didn’t hesitate to help out the nonprofit world, said Tom Boss, the off-road and events director for the nonprofit Marin County Bicycle Coalition, which advocates for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and bike-friendly policies.

When he heard about Wilson early last year, Boss said, he asked her to join the coalition’s off-road committee. Despite her work and race-training schedule, she “jumped on board,” he said.

Her meteoric rise was an inspiration to many, her loss a “big blow” to the community, he added. “Everybody was rooting for her. And then ... this tragedy happens.”

Wilson’s family in Vermont has set up a Gofundme page to serve as a starting point for establishing a foundation in her memory.

“We are absolutely devastated by the loss of our beautiful daughter and sister, Anna Moriah Wilson. There are no words that can express the pain and suffering we are experiencing due to this senseless, tragic loss,” a statement from the family said. “Moriah was a talented, kind, and caring young woman. Her life was taken from her before she had the opportunity to achieve everything she dreamed of. Our family, and all those who loved her, will forever miss her.”

The family made no comment about the police case surrounding Wilson’s death, but emailed The Chronicle on Tuesday that “those closest to her clearly understood, directly from Moriah, that she was not in a romantic relationship with anyone.”

The family also pointed to Wilson’s passion for the cycling community and her desire to share that love with others.

“With her visibility and presence in the cycling world, she wanted to empower young women athletes, encourage people of all walks of life to find joy and meaning through sport and community, and inspire all to chase their dreams,” they said. “We have endless ideas for how we can share Moriah’s life story and legacy to inspire and enrich the lives of others, and to do what we can to build a better world. This will allow Moriah’s spirit to live on in all of our lives.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Rita Beamish contributed to this article.

Danielle Echeverria is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @DanielleEchev


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