The woman, 61-year-old Philippa Ashford, was celebrating the turn of the new year with her family by setting off fireworks outside their residence in the Houston suburb of Laurel Oaks. According to a police statement, it was then that she reported she had been shot.
After emergency services arrived on scene, Ashford was pronounced dead shortly after midnight.
“At this point in the investigation, it appears the victim may have been struck by celebratory gunfire from outside the immediate neighbourhood,” reads the statement from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Though the final cause of death will still be determined by the county’s forensic sciences team, officials told NBC News affiliate KPRC that they had found Ashford with a gunshot wound to her neck.
The county’s homicide and crime scene units are now responding to the scene and are conducting an investigation, though there is no information currently available on who or what fired the bullet.
“We walked the streets and canvassed up and down to see if we can find any shell casings or anything in the neighbourhood and are not finding anything,” officials told KRPC.
Ashford worked as a nurse manager at the Menninger Clinic for over 12 years, specifically in a program for adult mental health and substance use detoxification, according to a statement posted on the clinic’s website.
“Our hearts go out to her family and friends at this very sad time and we offer our support and deepest sympathy,” reads a statement from the Menninger Clinic’s CEO, Armando Colombo.
“Menninger will hold a memorial service to honor Philippa, whose loss as a talented professional and friend will be felt by all of us here at Menninger and across our local mental health community.”
Ashford’s profile on the clinic’s website details that she had also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and was presented in 2015 with the Texas Nurses Association District 9 Top 25 Outstanding Nurses Award.
An outpouring of support followed news of Ashford’s death online, with some condemning the use of celebratory gunfire.
“Rest In Peace Philippa Ashford. Celebratory gunfire must end!” wrote Twitter user Melanie Mcneil.
“The person who fired a loaded gun in order to ‘celebrate’ the new year put momentary pleasure above the value of a human life. The shooter must be prosecuted for homicide,” wrote Joseph Robertson.
“We need to be free from this terror.”
“Celebratory gunfire?! WTF even is that?? Ridiculous waste of a life,” wrote Lisa Jypsey. “Thankful we don’t have this idiotic mentality in Canada. How freaking sad.”
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