What a sad, sad tragedy.

Twin Cities woman killed by Fla. officer in ‘horrible accident’ during exercise
She was chosen randomly to participate in a “shoot-don’t shoot” demonstration, the police chief said.
By Paul Walsh Star Tribune AUGUST 10, 2016 — 1:37PM

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Florida police say an officer accidentally shot and killed a woman during a citizens academy exercise. The Punta Gorda police chief says live fire hit Mary Knowlton during a role-playing scenario on Tuesday.
A former Twin Cities woman was fatally shot while participating in a Citizens Academy exercise at police headquarters in her adopted city on Florida’s southern Gulf Coast, authorities said.

“In a horrible accident,” Mary Knowlton, 73, of Punta Gorda, “was mistakenly struck with a live round” Tuesday evening after she and another of the 35 academy participants were randomly chosen for a “shoot-don’t shoot” role-playing exercise that involves decisions about when to use lethal force, said Police Chief Tom Lewis.

Knowlton was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital in nearby Fort Myers and pronounced dead, the chief said.

Before retiring, Knowlton was the librarian at Parkview Elementary School in Rosemount from 1988 to 2004, then was a substitute librarian at other schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan public schools through 2013, a district spokesman said. Knowlton also worked for the Scott County Library in the 1980s at the Prior Lake branch before taking over at Parkview, that county’s library director said.

“Mary Knowlton was the center of our school at Parkview, and she made the library the heart of the building,” said Parkview Principal Nicole Frovik. “Her mission was to get books in students’ hands and to connect them with stories that would help them develop a love of reading. … Mary touched so may peoples’ lives through her work as a school librarian and as a volunteer giving back to the community.”

Knowlton originally was from Austin, Minn., where she went to high school and graduated in 1961. She then studied for various degrees at St. Olaf College, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University, Mankato, among other higher education institutions.

Mary and husband Gary Knowlton relocated to Punta Gorda from Prior Lake, where they had lived since 1973.

“Our entire Police Department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event,” Lewis said during a news conference. “I am asking that if you pray, pray for Mary’s husband and family and for all of the officers and witnesses that were involved in this incident. Everyone involved is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”

In a follow-up news conference Wednesday afternoon, the chief said the officer who fired the fatal shot is “very stricken” over the incident. Lewis said he and other members of the department were in the room at the time of the shooting.

The chief also describing the weapon as a revolver that is not a service weapon, but he declined to say anything more about the firearm.

Going forward, Lewis said, potentially lethal weapons will “absolutely not” be used in future demonstrations of this sort.

Lewis offered no other specifics on how the shooting occurred, saying that investigators “must take great care to not jeopardize the investigation. As the investigation continues and more information is available we will be as transparent as possible, and release that information.”

Photographer Sue Paquin was covering the event for the Charlotte Sun and said an officer was playing the “bad guy” when he fired several rounds during the simulation, according to the newspaper’s Facebook page.

Officials from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating and were at police headquarters Tuesday night, Lewis said. He declined to identify the officer involved in the shooting, but he said he’s been placed on administrative leave.

Punta Gorda, a city north of Fort Myers with a population of roughly 16,000, describes its Citizens Academy as a free eight-session course of interactive classes “designed to give citizens an up-close and personal look at how city government functions and helps shape our community.”

Although retired from career as a librarian, Knowlton stayed close to her profession through the Friends of the Punta Gorda Library, serving as its president for a time and holding a position on its board at the time of her death.

“I can’t even begin to tell you, the number of civic organizations she was involved in,” said Katie Mazzi, who succeeded Knowlton as president of the Friends of the Punta Gorda Library. “Also, her church has a library that Mary was in charge of. … She was little older than me, and she made me feel like I was 100.”

Mazzi said Knowlton and her husband have long split their time between the Twin Cities and Punta Gorda until selling their Prior Lake home within the past two years.

“She loved being from Minnesota,” Mazzi said.

Mazzi, who has lived in Punta Gorda for 14 years, said she and others who knew Knowlton are left wondering how “one of these freaky, freaky accidents” could have occurred. “The Punta Gorda Police Department is an excellent police department,” she added.

Along with Gary, her husband of more than 50 years, Knowlton’s survivors include sons Steve and William. Steve ran 3,000 miles across the United States in an effort to raise awareness of issues affecting military veterans. He finished in Washington, D.C., in September 2014 and was greeted by his parents in front of the White House.

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