Colleagues have paid tribute to headteacher Emma Pattison, found dead with her seven-year-old daughter and husband at Epsom College in Surrey, as reports emerged that emergency services were alerted after gunshots were heard.
Surrey police have not disclosed the cause of deaths of Pattison, 45, daughter Lettie and husband, George, 39, a chartered accountant and director of a management consultancy. The force has said it is confident no one else was involved.
A member of staff called emergency services in the early hours of Sunday morning after they heard gunshots, according to the Telegraph, which said the Pattisons’ home is surrounded by other houses occupied by teachers and staff.
The property is also located next to the school’s indoor rifle range, which appeared to have been cordoned off on Monday morning. A source familiar with the school told the Telegraph the range has no live ammunition in it.
The private co-educational school is understood to have a long history of excellence at target rifle shooting.
Pattison, who became Epsom College’s first female headteacher in September, was found with her husband and daughter at their home in the school grounds in the early hours of Sunday.
She was a “much-loved and respected member” of the Girls’ Day School Trust community while at Croydon high school, where she had previously spent six years as head, said the GDST chief executive, Cheryl Giovannoni, who described her “as a talented head and teacher and a dear friend to many of us”.
“She touched the lives of all of us with her energy, wisdom and kindness during her six years as head of Croydon high school and the school will always bear the legacy of her inspiring leadership.”
Her husband was director of a management consultancy firm called Tanglewood 2016, according to Companies House.
In a pupil-led Epsom Insight podcast recorded in December, Pattison spoke of joining the school and outlined the “big changes” her family had recently undergone.
She said: “It’s been wonderful, in terms of transition it has been a really big change for my family, so we’ve obviously moved house, we’ve bought a dog, I’ve got a new job, my husband has got a new job – which wasn’t meant to happen but did. And my daughter has started a new school, so there’s been a lot of change for us as a family, but it’s been wonderful, the college has been so supportive.”
Dr Alastair Wells, chair of the board of governors at Epsom College, said the news had been met with “utter shock and disbelief.”
“Our immediate thoughts and condolences are with Emma’s family, friends and loved ones, and to the many pupils and colleagues whose lives she enriched throughout her distinguished career.
“Emma was a wonderful teacher, but most of all she was a delightful person.”
Local MP Chris Grayling called the deaths “an appalling tragedy”, adding: “I know everyone locally will be shocked about what has happened.”
Epsom College said on Twitter it was “heartbreaking” news, and that staff and pupils would pay their respects to their “wonderful head” on Monday. The focus was on the welfare and wellbeing of pupils and staff.
More than 850 boys and girls attend the school, which was founded in 1853. It won the top prize at the Independent Schools of the Year Awards 2022, with judges calling it a “beacon of excellence”.
Boarding students at the college pay more than £42,000 a year and its alumni include Conservative MP Sir Michael Fallon and broadcaster Jeremy Vine.
Insp Jon Vale, Epsom and Ewell’s borough commander, said: “We’re aware that this tragic incident will have caused concern and upset in the local community.
“While this is believed to be an isolated incident, in the coming days our local officers will remain in the area to offer reassurance to students, parents, teachers and the local community.”
Pattison was on the graduate Thomas Cook programme when she decided to switch careers to teaching and “hadn’t looked back” since. She told the podcast said she was “absolutely loving” her time at Epsom College, and described herself as a lifelong learner.
The mother of one pupil told BBC News: “In her time as head teacher she turned the school around, and she did so many things that enriched the children’s lives.
“She was slight but very formidable, She knew all of the pupils by name. She was exactly what you would want from a head teacher.”.
In an interview with School Management Plus magazine last month, she was described as “fresh and forward-thinking a far cry from traditional perceptions of aloof elitism in the independent sector”.
Surrey police said they had been contacted by the ambulance service and attended at 1.10am on Sunday where the three bodies were found. “An investigation is being carried out to establish the circumstances of their deaths. At this stage, police are confident that this is an isolated incident with no third-party involvement,” the force said in a statement.