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Witness recounts Citizens Academy shooting

Posted at 11:13 PM, Aug 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-10 23:13:22-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. --John Wright, a friend of Mary Knowlton, was one of 35 people inside the Punta Gorda Police Department when a Citizen Academy role-playing scenario turned deadly. 

Wright is the President of the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce. They were invited to participate in Tuesday night's Citizen Academy at the Department, to learn more about what it's like to be an officer. 

"We were invited to move to the next stage which was the shoot or don't shoot scenario. And two of our guests were taken into the briefing room to be told what the scenario was going to be" said Wright. 

One of the guests, was his friend Mary Knowlton. Wright says the 73-year-old was chosen at random to play the officer in the scenario, while the cop played the suspect, meant to teach the group how police make judgment calls in the field. 

"When Mary came out, she was actually standing right next to me and smiling as she always did. And she was nervously holding the fake weapon, that we'd been told blanks." 

But at least one shot was live ammunition. 

"My initial thought was this was all part of the theater. This is what she had been briefed and the gunshots were clearly part of the play. Part of the scenario that was being played out." 

It wasn't until moments later that Wright realized this role play scenario become reality. 

"I remember looking over and seeking Mary kind of twist her torso a little bit and I got eye contact with her and she hit the floor. I knew something serious had happened." 

Wright says paramedics responded immediately and the first responders were doing everything they could for Knowlton. The group was devastated when they found out that Knowlton didn't survive. 

"That's when the entire group kind of broke down and held hands and hugged and prayed." 

Prayed for Knowlton, a woman he describes as a hugger, a community sweetheart. They prayed for her family, her friends, and the community. And prayed no one would ever have to go through this again.