Punta Gorda, Florida — Mary Knowlton, 73, was a retired librarian and housewife who was participating in a Citizen’s Police Academy conducted by the Punta Gorda Police Department. After being randomly chosen to participate in a mock shooting exercise, she was shot dead. Here are the 5 Fast Facts of what we know so far:
1She Was Killed in an Accident After Being Chosen at Random to Participate In a Training Exercise
73-year-old Mary Knowlton was accidentally shot dead in a training accident gone wrong. She was taking part in a “shoot/don’t shoot” role playing exercise at the Citizen’s Police Academy she was participating in with the Punta Gorda Police Department in Punta Gorda, Florida.
One of two selected people, she was selected to be part of a simulated training exercise to help better understand the use of lethal force from the police officer’s perspective. The main aim of this exercise was to show when not to shoot.
2Officer Lee Coel Shot Her with Live Rounds Instead of Blanks
As part of the exercise, Mary was used to help trainee officers how to make decisions “using simulated lethal force”, which was part of the course she was taking that aimed to help show citizens about life working as a police officer.
Rather than being shot with a blank round of ammunition, she was mistakenly shot by a live round by Officer Lee Coel, who was playing the role of a criminal in the exercise. She instantly fell face-first into the ground before being rushed to the local hospital where she was pronounced dead.
3Her Husband Was Ten Feet Away When She Was Shot
Mary was married to Gary Knowlton for 55 years, and her husband was just ten feet away from his wife when she was shot dead. He was one of 34 other people in attendance of the training program, and has spoken about his shock of the situation.
He said in an interview with CBS Miami:
“I was standing 10 feet away from her when the guy shot her, I just can’t believe she’s gone, but I have to learn to live with that.”
He holds no blame towards the officer involved, going on to say:
“I think it’s a whole series of errors. I can’t control that stuff and I know there was no ill intent, just mistakes,”
4She Was a Retired Librarian Who Was Passionate About Helping Children Read More
Mrs. Knowlton was a retired librarian from Minnesota, having moved to Punta Gorda with her husband upon retirement. The was a board member of the Friends of Punta Gorda Library where she also volunteered, having remained very passionate about her former profession.
A friend of Mary’s from Minnesota spoke to Associated Press about her, saying she “had a love of books and tried to instill that in young readers.”
“So much is on the internet now. But, books are so important to have in children’s hands. That was important to her,” she said to the AP. “She was the salt of the earth, a beautiful soul and the kindest women you would know.”
5The Shooting Is Currently Under Investigation
The events of the shooting are currently under investigation, although it is being treated as an accident.
Police Chief Tom Lewis called it a horrific accident, saying in a statement:
“I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event. If you pray, please pray for Mary’s family, and for the officers who were involved. Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”
How the live-rounds were mistakenly used instead of the intended blanks remains unknown, although the ongoing investigation may shed light on this.
Officer Coel has since been placed on administrative leave, and is being monitored by his colleagues.