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Fugitive charged in slaying of Vermont cyclist captured in Costa Rica

Kaitlin Marie Armstrong was captured in Costa Rica.Associated Press

A Texas woman has been arrested in Costa Rica and will be brought back to the United States to face charges including first-degree murder in the slaying of Moriah Wilson, a Vermont native and top professional cyclist, federal law enforcement officials said Thursday.

Kaitlin Armstrong allegedly shot Wilson in Austin, Texas, on May 11 due to jealousy over a relationship Wilson previously had with Armstrong’s boyfriend, Colin Strickland, another prominent professional cyclist. Armstrong, 34, was arrested Wednesday after a six-week flight from law enforcement that took her from Austin to New York and, eventually, to a hostel on Santa Teresa Beach, in Puntarenas Province, where she was captured.

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“This is an example of combining the resources of local, state, federal and international authorities to apprehend a violent fugitive, bring an end to that run and hopefully a sense of closure to the victim’s family,” Susan Pamerleau, US marshal for the Western District of Texas, said in a statement.

Armstrong’s last interaction with law enforcement, before her apprehension, was a May 12 interview with the Austin Police Department, which she was allowed to leave under her own power. During the interview, the police described to her substantial evidence linking her to Wilson’s killing, including surveillance footage of Armstrong’s Jeep near the scene of the crime just before Wilson was shot.

The next day, according to the marshals service, Armstrong sold her Jeep to an Austin dealership for $12,200 and then, on May 14, flew to New York. A few days later she arrived at Newark airport in New Jersey and boarded a flight to Costa Rica using a fraudulent passport, the marshals service said.

The Austin police issued a warrant for Armstrong’s arrest on May 17, the day before she left the country.

The slaying rocked the cycling community in Austin and nationally. Wilson, who was 25, and Strickland had both been dominant forces in the fast-growing gravel racing scene, a discipline that combines aspects of road racing and mountain biking. Armstrong was a well-known amateur cyclist in Austin.

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“Austin is a small town and the cycling community is a small, tight-knit world within that,” said Colm Whelan, an Austin cyclist, in the days after the killing. “People are devastated.”

Since Armstrong’s disappearance, which made international news, her whereabouts had become a matter of intense speculation, with few concrete clues.

“We just assumed she was gone forever,” an Austin bike shop owner, who did not want his name used in connection with the case, said Thursday.

An Austin bike racer, who also requested anonymity, said Armstrong’s capture had brought relief to the community.

“I think the sentiment more than anything is we want her brought to justice,” the racer said. “We want closure.”

In Wilson’s native Vermont, Armstrong’s capture may reopen wounds that were just beginning to heal. On June 12, hundreds attended a memorial service in East Burke, Wilson’s hometown. Wilson’s brother, parents, and her former partner spoke.

A former riding partner, Jordan Fields, said that fellow cyclists and skiers — Wilson was a ski racer at Dartmouth College before going pro in cycling after graduation — had been trying to keep their attention focused on Wilson, “the way she rode, the way she lived, the way she shared space with friends,” he said.

“The circumstances [of the crime] had sort of faded to the background, until today,” he added in an interview Thursday after news broke of Armstrong’s capture.

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Strickland, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, has kept a low profile since the killing. On May 23, his Austin home was dark and no one answered when a reporter knocked. A neighbor said Strickland was “gone.” The Austin bike racer, who used to ride with Strickland and cross paths with him at races, said he hadn’t seen Strickland since the killing.

The Austin Police Department has provided changing explanations for why Armstrong was allowed to walk out of the May 12 interview. In the latest explanation, during a press conference on May 25, a police official said Armstrong had been released due to a mix-up regarding her birth date: a Texas misdemeanor warrant that allowed police to bring her in for questioning showed one date, and the department’s records system showed another.

Armstrong is accused of fatally shooting Wilson inside an Austin apartment where Wilson had been staying with a friend in advance of an upcoming race.

On the day of the alleged murder, Wilson went for a swim and to dinner with Strickland. Strickland dropped Wilson off at the friend’s apartment on his motorcycle and, minutes later, Armstrong’s Jeep could be seen pulling up to the building in the surveillance footage police obtained, according to a police affidavit.

Not long after, Wilson’s friend returned to her home and found the cyclist in a pool of blood in a bathroom.

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The affidavit said Armstrong owned a pistol that Austin police had seized from her home as part of the probe and that “laboratory test-firing of Armstrong’s pistol confirmed that it fired the spent shell casings” at the murder scene.

At the time of her death, Wilson’s star was rising. She had won most races she entered this year and was considered a favorite to win many of the biggest gravel events on the 2022 calendar.


Mike Damiano can be reached at mike.damiano@globe.com. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.