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Florida Woman Fatally Shot During Citizen Police Academy Training

Mary Knowlton was killed by a live round during a 'shoot/don’t shoot' drill where participants simulate lethal force decisions during live role play.
Police react at the scene of an accidental shooting at the Punta Gorda Citizen Police Academy.
Police react at the scene of an accidental shooting at the Punta Gorda Citizen Police Academy.WBBH

Florida investigators are probing the fatal shooting of a participant in a volunteer citizen police academy drill — an incident that happened as three dozen people looked on and which cops are calling an "unimaginable" accident.

Mary Knowlton was taking part in a "shoot/don’t shoot" exercise Tuesday when she was struck by a live round, the Punta Gorda Police Department said in a statement.

Knowlton, 73, was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event," Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said. "Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief."

Lewis has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate what went wrong.

Citizen police academies like the one Knowlton attended "are common around the state," FDLE spokesman Steve Arthur said. "They're a way of showing the community the various responsibilities of law enforcement."

So are "shoot/don't shoot" drills,' he said. "It gives people a better idea of what an officer has to deal with when confronted with ambiguous situations," said Arthur.

But asked whether it was common to use live ammunition in these kinds of drills, Arthur said, "No, it is not," he said.

The officer involved in the shooting was placed on administrative leave pending results of the investigation, police said.

"We are shocked by this horrific accident and are grieving deeply over Mary's passing," Punta Gorda city manager Howard Kunik said. "We also would like to acknowledge the impact this has had on the other participants who were present during this tragedy."

Knowlton, a retired librarian originally from Minnesota, was a married mother of two grown children.