The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office is in mourning. One of their deputies was killed while responding to a neighbor dispute.
It marks the first time one of their own has been killed in the line of duty.
On Sunday night, officials say 69-year-old Joseph Ables shot and killed his neighbor’s cat in Lake Placid.
“He has a jaded past, and he’s always been a bit off,” said Russell Peitz, whose mother in law owned the cat.
Deputy William Gentry, an 8-year veteran was sent to respond. When Gentry went to Ables’ home on Baltimore Way, the homeowner shot him in the head.
“I heard four total shots fired,” described Peitz.
“It kinda sounded like firecrackers because it was like pop pop pop it wasn’t just like one loud shot,” described Danielle Dolan, who was nearby.
Ables was quickly arrested. Gentry was rushed to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers where he died Monday afternoon.
Shortly after his death was announced, flags were lowered to half-staff. And when Deputy Gentry’s car arrived at the Sheriff’s Office to serve as a memorial, many of his colleagues stood at attention.
But for Lieutenant Chris Smith, the emotion turned out to be too much. He wept during the ceremony and later laid his head on the car, sobbing.
“To not be there, and to not help him, it hurts,” said Smith. “I knew Willie from the beginning of his career. I was one of his first training officers.”
‘Willie’ is being remembered for his dry humor, attention to detail and dedication to this community.
“I know he’s watching over us right now, keeping a hand on all our shoulders to help us deal with this,” said Lt. Smith.
This close-knit law enforcement family is struggling to cope.
“It’s like someone took a baseball bat and knocked me in the gut and I was bent over and I couldn’t get my breath back,” said Lt. Smith.
“There’s no routine call. Deputies, all law enforcement officers have to be on their toes and unfortunately, we’ve had the worst that can happen, happen to us,” said Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Scott Dressel.
“Didn’t realize the danger that he was in,” said resident Cheryl Sharp. “I have a close friend who’s name is on the memorial rock that’s over there.”
“Didn’t know him at all, but he protected us.”
Lieutenant Smith and his fellow deputies are determined to honor their fallen brother.
“Willie wouldn’t want us stopping. He wants to get out here and continue to do what he did, be here for the citizens, be here for our new training deputies, continue a legacy of the sheriff’s office, continue a legacy of his name,” said Lt. Smith.
“In the true spirit of a public servant, Deputy Gentry is an organ donor and his organs will be donated so that some good may come out of this unspeakable tragedy,” said Dressel.
William Gentry was 40 years old.
A memorial fund has been set up at the sheriff’s office to help support Gentry’s family.
Ables is currently at the Highlands County Jail. His charges are expected to be upgraded.