Woman killed by Florida officer in academy class

Cheryl Sanders
August 11, 2016

Mary Knowlton, 73, was accidentally shot to death during a similar roleplaying scenario Tuesday night, according to the police report.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis told reporters the weapon was a revolver, not a department-issued service weapon.

A Punta Gorda police spokesman identified the officer as Lee Coel and said Coel has worked for that southwest Florida police department since 2014.

As noted by the City's website, the academy "is a free, eight session course of interactive classes created to provide insight into City government and to develop future leaders through well informed and civically engaged residents".

In a role playing exercise called "shoot/don't shoot", Knowlton played a police officer.

Punta Gorda Police Lt. Katie Heck said officers in such demonstrations normally use "simunition guns", which are real-looking weapons that fire a non-lethal projectile with reduced force.

"I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event", Police Chief Tom Lewis said in the statement.

Coel is heavily involved in the community and has frequently provided presentations for the "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios, according to the police department. Lewis described Knowlton, whom he said he knew personally, as a "phenomenal" person in the community.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Thomas Lewis said that it was a "horrible accident".

Knowlton was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers where she was pronounced dead.

The officer involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave and an investigation has been opened.

ABC 7 said Knowlton was "randomly selected" with another participant to be part of the role playing exercise.

"One of our first priorities was to involve our police department's chaplain to provide assistance and comfort", he said.

According to her Facebook page, Knowlton graduated from Austin High School in 1961 before attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University in Makato. She served as a librarian for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Egan Public Schools and the Scott County Public Library in Savage.

Carolyn Hartwigsen, of Edina, Minnesota, told The Associated Press she was a longtime friend of Knowlton.

Her son, Steven, said his father is devastated.

Daniels said many times people think a gun isn't loaded, but they forget about the bullet in the barrel.

"So much is on the internet now. That was important to her", Hartwigsen said Wednesday morning.

During the scenario dubbed "shoot/don't shoot" on Tuesday (local time), the elderly mother was shot and killed in a tragedy that has stunned the local police department.

"She was the salt of the earth, a attractive soul and the kindest women you would know", she said.

Other reports by iNewsToday