Mary Knowlton was killed while roleplaying as an officer during a “shoot-don’t shoot” exercise, hosted by the Punta Gorda Police Department. The officer she partnered with, who was playing the “bad guy,” was not supposed to have live ammunition loaded in his weapon, and Knowlton was “mistakenly struck with a live round."
— Corey Lazar (@CoreyLazarWINK) August 10, 2016
Knowlton was one of 35 participants in a “citizens academy” event, a free, eight-session course for residents to learn more about how the government and police function in their community.
“The Citizens and Police Officers meet each other face to face in a neutral, friendly setting and each becomes a person to the other,” the National Citizens Police Academy Association explains on their website. “In the past, citizens have simply seen a uniform, now they have an understanding about the person behind the badge.”
The department is asking for prayers for Knowlton’s family, as well as the officers involved.
“I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event,” police chief Tom Lewis told reporters during a news conference at department headquarters. “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.”
Knowlton was rushed to the hospital after the shooting, and was pronounced dead.
City officials are now offering free grief counseling for anyone who asks, and the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated.
Authorities have not released information on why a gun used in a public-affairs exercise was loaded with live ammunition.