Vicki Van Meter, celebrated for piloting a plane across the country at age 11 and from the U.S. to Europe at age 12, has died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Crawford County coroner said. She was 26.
Van Meter died Saturday and her body was found in her home in Meadville, Pa., on Sunday.
Her brother said she battled depression and opposed medication, but her family thought she had been dealing with her problems.
"She was unhappy, but it was hard for her to open up about that and we all thought that she was coping," Daniel Van Meter said. "This really is a shock, because we didn't see the signs."
Van Meter made national headlines in 1993 and 1994 when she made her cross-country and trans-Atlantic flights accompanied only by a flight instructor. Her instructors said she was at the controls during the entirety of both flights.
As a sixth-grader in September 1993, Van Meter flew from Augusta, Maine, to San Diego over five days. She had to fight strong headwinds and turbulence that bounced her single-engine Cessna 172 and made her sick.
At the time, she was believed to be the youngest girl to fly across the United States; the record was later broken.
Nine months later, Van Meter flew from Augusta to Glasgow, Scotland, and was credited with being the youngest girl to make a trans-Atlantic flight. She battled dizziness brought on by high altitude and declared upon landing: "I always thought it would be real hard and it was."
Later she earned a degree in criminal justice from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and spent two years with the Peace Corps in Cahul, Moldova. She recently worked as an investigative agent for an insurance company.
"She led a full and interesting life. ... She had more guts than any of us could ever imagine," said her mother, Corinne Van Meter, 57.
Corinne Van Meter said her daughter had recently begun applying to graduate schools and wanted to study psychology.
"We will miss her dearly, but we are very, very aware that she is doing important work somewhere else right now," she said.
Van Meter's funeral will be held in Meadville, but arrangements have not been finalized.