updated 10/1/2006 12:23:03 AM ET 2006-10-01T04:23:03

A sheriff’s deputy showing a handgun to friends at his birthday party accidentally shot himself in the face, killing himself, authorities said Saturday.

Matt Barnes, 26, told guests at the Friday night celebration his .45-caliber revolver was not loaded, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. He pulled the trigger around 10:30 p.m., authorities said, and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Barnes, who had been a deputy for two years, was off duty at the time of the accident. The sheriff’s office said alcohol was believed to have been involved.

Barnes’ fiancee witnessed the shooting, authorities said.

“It is a tragic, tragic story,” Sheriff David Shoar told The St. Augustine Record for Sunday’s edition. “He was there with seven or eight friends. Sometime during the evening, he picked up the handgun and was showing it around when it accidentally discharged, killing him.”

The shooting remained under investigation.

Grief counselors were helping deputies cope with the loss, Shoar said.

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