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Newly engaged gay cop is Florida police's first coronavirus fatality

Sheriff’s Deputy Shannon Bennett, 39, died from COVID-19 on April 3 after falling ill March 23. He proposed to his fiancé four months before his death.
Deputy Shannon Bennett
Deputy Shannon Bennett.Broward Sheriff's Office

Sheriff’s Deputy Shannon Bennett of Broward County, Florida, died April 3 from COVID-19, the first coronavirus-related death of a law enforcement officer in a state that has only recently begun to grapple with the global pandemic.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony confirmed Bennett’s death and said he had apparently contracted the coronavirus in the line of duty. Bennett, 39, left work early on March 23 due to illness and tested positive for coronavirus shortly after being admitted to the hospital.

“Deputy Shannon Bennett was a 12 year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office; an out and proud gay law enforcement deputy; a school resource officer who protected and mentored the young students at Deerfield Beach Elementary; a man in love to be wedded later this year,” the department tweeted on Sunday. “Rest In Peace.”

Bennett was newly engaged to Jonathan Frey, who called Bennett his “soulmate” in an interview with South Florida’s Local 10 News.

"This is not the end of who he is," Frey told Local 10. "He was the love of my life, and I know his legacy is going to live on, one way or another.”

Frey told People magazine that the two met in 2013 while volunteering at an LGBTQ mental health center and got engaged after Bennett proposed to him at Disney World last December.

A native of Broward County, Bennett joined the sheriff’s office in 2007.

In the aftermath of the 2016 mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub, Pulse, which left 49 people dead, Bennett reportedly parked his police cruiser outside LGBTQ establishments in Wilton Manors, Florida, to reassure patrons of their safety.

Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said the group was “devastated” to confirm that Bennett was the state’s first police COVID-19 fatality.

“We implore the citizens and the visitors to our state to please adhere to the orders and stay home,” Mercer said. “They could surely save a life.”

The state recorded its second pandemic-related officer fatality the day after Bennett’s death, when Palm Beach County Sergeant Jose Diaz Ayala, 38, died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, Florida had over 15,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 300 confirmed fatalities, according to NBC 6 South Florida.

According to Local 10 News, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has been hit hard by the coronavirus with dozens of members of its staff testing positive.

“We lost a man in the line of duty, and we’re probably going to lose another,” Tony said at a news conference shortly after Bennett’s death.

The nonprofit Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council announced it was creating a new fund in Bennett’s honor for families of first responders who succumb to the coronavirus.

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