A 73-year-old Florida woman was fatally shot by a police officer during a “citizen’s academy” police training course on Aug. 9, according to Punta Gorda police.
Mary Knowlton was accidentally shot during a “shoot/don’t shoot” training scenario in which they simulated lethal force in a live role-play, according to a press release from the department. She was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
“Our entire police department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event,” said Chief Tom Lewis. “I am asking that if you pray, you pray for Mary’s husband and family and for all of the officers and witnesses involved in this incident.”
Approximately 35 civilians from the community were taking part in the training course on Tuesday.
According to the Punta Gorda city’s website, the Citizens’ Academy is a free eight-session course of interactive classes for Punta Gorda residents. Classes are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
The department has used “shoot/don’t shoot” role-playing scenarios for the past two years.
“We have done them for the last two Leadership Charlotte police nights, Punta Gorda Citizen’s Academy, and then this was the first police night hosted by our Chamber of Commerce,” said Lt. Katie Heck, public information officer for the Punta Gorda police. “In each session 4 individuals went through the scenarios with no injuries or incident.”
Knowlton’s niece, Jenny Tucker Christensen, shared her grief on her Facebook page.
“Please pray for my family as we all grieve my beloved Aunt Mary Knowlton. I pray for my Uncle Gary and cousins Bill and Steve Knowlton as they mourn the loss of a devoted Wife and Mother,” Christensen wrote. “We are devastated. How I loved her so much she will be forever missed by all. My heart just breaks.”
The unidentified officer involved in the deadly shooting has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The Minnesota native was a board member with Friends of the Punta Gorda Library, according to the organization’s webpage.