A 73-year-old retired librarian attended a citizens training course in Punta Gorda, Florida, on Tuesday night to learn how to be a leader in her community, but instead, she wound up being mistakenly shot by a police officer.
Mary Knowlton was shot several times during a “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise by a police officer role-playing a “bad guy” who mistakenly used live ammunition instead of blank rounds, Police Chief Tom Lewis told the Washington Post.
“Our entire police department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event.
“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.”
Mary was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she died from her wounds. She had been taking part in a two-hour Citizens Academy designed to give area residents a better idea of what their police officers deal with every day. There were 35 people taking part in the academy training session at the police station Tuesday night when Mary Knowlton was shot and killed.
The “shoot/don’t shoot” training scenario was designed to demonstrate to citizens the quick decisions officers must make in the line of duty every day. When it came time to get involved, Mary was excited to jump in and volunteer.
She and two other volunteers were assigned to role-play a “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario designed to demonstrate the difficult decisions officers must make quickly when they decide to pull the trigger. Knowlton was assigned to role-play the victim and a police officer played the “bad guy.”
It wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. Usually, these training scenarios use fake or empty weapons, but Tuesday night, when the gun was fired, Mary was hit with live ammunition.
She was a wife, mother of two, and a career librarian who loved books and tried to pass on her love of reading to children, her long-time friend Carolyn Hartwigsen of Edina, Minnesota told News-Press.com.
“She was the salt of the earth, a beautiful soul and the kindest woman you would know.”
Knowlton’s Facebook page says she was originally from Austin, Minnesota. She worked at the Scott County public library in the 1980s and was an active member of her community.
— Kim Kuizon FOX 13 (@kkuizon) August 10, 2016
She moved to Punta Gorda, Florida, with her husband of 50 years and continued to work on the Friends of the Library board of directors, Hartwigsen told News-Press.com.
“So much is on the internet now, but books are so important to have in children’s hands. That was important to her.”
Punta-Gorda police officials expressed their profound sympathy for the friends and family of Knowlton as well as the other citizens who had been training alongside Mary, City Manager Howard Kunik told News-Press.com.
“One of our first priorities was to involve our police department’s chaplain to provide assistance and comfort.”
The Punta Gorda police officer who shot and killed a 73-year-old woman during a citizen academy role playing… https://t.co/W3odb5fJDB
— PINAC News (@PINACnews) August 10, 2016
It’s not clear why the officer’s gun was loaded with live ammunition, and after the shooting, the police chief contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to ask for an investigation. The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave, reports the Washington Post.
“Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”
The department had conducted the Citizens Academy as an eight-session course of interactive classes for two years without incident before the accidental shooting without incident.
The tragic shooting has shocked the waterfront city of Punta Gorda, which is home to 17,500 residents, but city leaders expressed their confidence in the police chief’s ability to thoroughly carry out the investigation.
The city is providing free grief counseling for anyone who needs it.
[Image via Mary Knowlton/Facebook]