Funeral held for victim of citizen academy shooting

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A group of two dozen people who participated in a Citizen Police Night at Punta Gorda Police Department gathered again Tuesday afternoon, one week after they witnessed the final moments of Mary Knowlton’s life.

This time, they walked in quiet unity into Punta Gorda’s First United Methodist Church to honor Knowlton, whose died after an officer fired live rounds at the 73-year-old during the “shoot/don’t shoot” police demonstration.

Police officers - including Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis - sat in pews next to Mary’s friends, and listened as family members described a woman whose life was marked by faith and grace.

"That's what my mom was about: she was about forgiving,” said Steve Knowlton, Mary’s son. “And I think we need to be about forgiving."            

Officer Lee Coel, who was not in attendance, is on administrative leave while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates why he use a loaded weapon during the role-playing demonstration.

Knowlton, who was 73 years old, was a Homecoming queen who married her high school sweetheart 54 years ago. She was described as a life-long learner who was active in her church, volunteered in community organizations and at the local library. She always had a book to recommend, said niece Stephanie Gary. 

"This is the last book that she gave me, and she said it was the best book she ever read,” Gary said as she held up ‘Ordinary Grace,’ by Kent Krueger.

Gary said she was about halfway through the book when she heard her aunt died. She described the book’s themes: untimely death, tragedy, and discovering God’s grace in the midst of it. 

“Mary would want us to go on, not remembering the tragedy of how she passed, but what she left you with, which was her kindness, her love, and her ability to forgive the unforgivable."