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Florida deputy dies from shooting in dispute over neighbor's cat

Highlands County Sheriff's deputy William Gentry dies after shooting. (Highlands County Sheriff's Office)

A Highlands County Sheriff's Office deputy died Monday afternoon, one day after being shot while responding to a dispute between neighbors over the shooting of a cat.

Highlands County Sheriff Deputy William Gentry passed away at 1:10 p.m. at Lee Memorial Hospital. The sheriff's office said his family was with him.

State leaders and folks in the tiny community of Placid Lakes are expressing their outrage and anguish.

“He was just trying to protect us in Placid Lakes, we are so grateful, and we always will be.” said Brenda Lee, her voice shaking, as she described the stomach turning scenario that happened in the secluded neighborhood Sunday night.

The shooting happened just before 8 p.m. in the Placid Lakes community. Brenda’s friend lives across the street and her cat had died. As folks came over to console her, Brenda says they all looked at the cat and the consensus was that the death seemed odd, possibly an act of cruelty. So the sheriffs office was called.

Investigators say Gentry and a deputy-in-training responded to the neighborhood to talk with the owner of the cat. Brenda says the group of neighbors asked Gentry to talk to 69-year-old Joseph Edward Ables, the neighbor accused of shooting the cat.

Neighbors told Gentry Ables had a reputation for being mean to animals, so Gentry made contact with Ables at his home.

“Then we heard ‘bam-bam bam-bam, we all knew, he just killed the cop,” Lee said.

Investigators say Ables shot Gentry in the head at close range. The sheriff's office says there was no time to return fire.

A medical helicopter took Gentry to the hospital with critical injuries. Gentry, 40, has been with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office for nine years.

Ables was arrested at the scene. He is a convicted felon with a history of violence towards police.

“William is an experienced law enforcement officer and serves as one of our Field Training Deputies,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “His brother is one of our detectives. This is an unimaginable tragedy for our agency. Our prayers are with Deputy Gentry and his family and we ask that your prayers be with them, also.”

Ables is facing charges of attempted first-degree murder without premeditation, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, resisting an officer with violence, tampering with evidence and violation of probation. The charges could be updated to murder after Gentry's death.

Words of encouragement and condolences were coming in Monday evening from all over the state to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, where the deputy’s vehicle is on display on the front lawn.

The Florida Sheriff's Association issued this statement:

We are devastated by the news that Deputy William Gentry has died after being shot last night while on duty serving his community. Deputy Gentry has honorably served the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for more than 9 years, currently serving as a field training officer whose contributions will forever have an impact on the agency.
We stand with Deputy Gentry, his family, his friends, and with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office during this tragic time. We are heartbroken at this reminder that law enforcement put their lives on the line every moment they are on duty for their fellow citizens. This attack is a terrible demonstration that evil lurks, and that life is meaningless to some. The Sheriffs of Florida have offered our resources to all first responders who are diligently and respectfully working on this tragedy in Highlands county, and who are investigating and bringing justice for our deputy and his family.

Gov. Scott issued this statement:

Each day, Florida’s brave men and women in law enforcement selflessly place the safety of others above their own. Today, my wife, Ann, and I join all Floridians in mourning the loss of another Florida hero, Deputy William Gentry, whose life has now been senselessly taken. Last night, I spoke with Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman and committed all available state resources they may need. We will not stand for anyone who hurts our law enforcement. I ask for all Floridians to pray for Deputy Gentry’s family and loved ones, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office and all of our courageous law enforcement who go above and beyond every day to keep us safe.
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