Maryville College football player charged with murder of Knox County teen

William Riley Gaul (Photo: KCSO)
William Riley Gaul (Photo: KCSO)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A freshman football player at Maryville College has been charged in a murder investigation of a high school girl.

(Courtesy: Anesia McDonald)
(Courtesy: Anesia McDonald)

William Riley Gaul, 18, was charged with first degree murder, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Martha Dooley, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the victim’s name was Emma Walker, 16. The teen was found dead in her home with a gunshot wound.

The sheriff’s office said at a pres conference on November 30 that Gaul fired into her home while she slept, knowing where she was in the house, and then jumped the fence and fired again. Investigators say the two had an ongoing tumultuous relationship.

Students gathered at Central High School Tuesday night to remember Walker.

“On the pep rally day, she let me come and cheer with her and dance with her,” said friend Ashley Beets.

Beets brought balloons and flowers to the memorial next to Central High School’s football field.

“She’s my best friend,” said Beets.

Teachers at the high school are heartbroken over this loss.

“She was a leader both inside and outside the classroom. Always had a smile on her face, just a beautiful soul and she’s going to be missed by a lot of people,” said Chris Hammond, a health science teacher at CHS.

Hammond says Walker had told him she wanted to be a neonatal nurse.

“She had the kind of disposition and the heart that it would take to do that job.”

While it will take time to heal, many are remembering the mark she’s left behind at the school.

“Her heart for other people, her love for other people, for kids, for classmates, for school, it’s just overwhelming,” said Hammond.

Principal Michael Reynolds stated:

“This has been a very difficult time for the family, students and staff. Our student was a wonderful young lady, a cheerleader and honor student with a promising future, whose life has been cut too short, too soon. At this time, our hearts and thoughts and prayers are with the family as they go through this grieving process. We thank everyone in our community for their tremendous support.”

A crowdfunding page was set up to help Walker’s family. The donations will go toward a fund set up for Walker’s parents Mark and Jill at Regions Bank. Also, deposits can be made at any branch location.

To Donate: Emma Walker Memorial Fund

On the crowdfunding page, family friend Aneisa McDonald wrote:

“Her fun, kind, sweet spirit was contagious. Emma was a beauty inside and out. Our community was blessed to know her. Her dream was to become a nurse.”

William Riley Gaul (Photo: KCSO)
William Riley Gaul (Photo: KCSO)

Investigators believe the suspect fired into the teen’s bedroom from outside the home while she was sleeping. Gaul was arrested at the Woodlands Apartments on Cherokee Trail and is being held on a $750,000 bond at the Knox County Jail.

Investigators believe Gaul was trying to destroy evidence related to the investigation.

Gaul, who is graduated from Central High School, played as a wide receiver for Maryville College. On Tuesday, he posted a series of tweets about the victim.

Maryville College released a statement, saying: “Maryville College is cooperating fully with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department in this investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family and friends and other individuals affected by this tragedy.”

Ashlee Alleman, Gaul’s mother, did not want to go on camera but spoke to WATE 6 On Your Side on the phone. She said, “Riley did not do this. He would not hurt here because he loved Emma dearly. He is not a monster.”

Alleman said Walker and Gaul were still really close. She said Gaul helped Walker with a paper for school on Sunday.

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