Community mourns fallen Highlands deputy

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Flags outside the Highlands County Sheriff's Office have been lowered to half-staff to honor the life of Deputy William Gentry, killed Sunday night in the line of duty. 

It is the first time a Highlands deputy has died violently in the line of duty, and this community is sad and angry.

"Highlands County is a small county. Everyone here is family," said resident Velvet Montgomery. "You might have moved in here two months ago. But eventually, you will be family."

By that standard, eight-year deputy William Gentry was here a lifetime. 

Deputies stood guard as the last vehicle he ever drove was wheeled into place.

"His brother has already stated he lost his hero," said sheriff's office spokesperson Scott Dressel. "That is the same thing for a lot of us. We lost one of our heroes today."

Deputy Gentry was responding to a home on Baltimore Way in Lake Placid Sunday night after a neighbor to Joseph Ables said he had shot her cat. 

Highlands deputies say Gentry had little chance to react once Ables fired, that he was hit in the head, and was left with a weakening pulse.

"I am sorry I even called the police," said the neighbor, who did not want to be named. "That poor man and his family.”

Ables was quickly arrested by other deputies. 

Dutiful stops at Gentry's vehicle started the moment the short ceremony was over, as people laid flowers for the deputy who was shot less than 24 hours before. 

He survived the trip to a Fort Myers hospital, but succumbed to his injuries Monday afternoon:  An unfitting end for an unassuming person.

"He didn't make a spectacle of himself. He just did his job," said Montgomery, who had come into contact with him several times. "You never heard anything bad about him. He was just a great person."

Jimmy Sottile is one of the few who knows what Gentry's family is going through. His own brother, Trooper Nicholas Sotille, was murdered 11 years ago in Highlands County.

"You find yourself picking up the phone to call him. You can't call him anymore," said Sottile. "To this day. I still have his phone number in my phone because I refuse to erase it out of my phone. Your lives are turned upside down in the blink of an eye."

Deputy Gentry did not have a spouse or children, but he is survived by his mother, father and brother, who is a deputy with this agency.

His organs will be donated to those in need.