Highlands County deputy shot Sunday night dies from his injuries

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A Highlands County Sheriff’s Office deputy died Monday after he was shot in the head Sunday night in the Lake Placid area, the sheriff’s office said.

Joseph Edward Ables, 69, is in custody and is being charged with attempted first-degree murder without premeditation among other charges, according to the sheriff’s office.

Joseph Ables, photo courtesy of Highlands County Jail.

Deputy William Gentry was responding to a call saying that Ables shot a neighbor’s cat on Baltimore Way. Contact was then made with Ables. Sources say the suspect then fired a shot, hitting the deputy in the head. Gentry was airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital following the shooting.

Neighbors in the Lake Placid area say they were horrified to learn what happened in their normally-quiet community. Russell Peitz says the home where the shooting took place was his mother-in-law’s house.

“She was in tears and wanted me to come over,” he said. Her cat of 15 years—Mr. Brown—was shot right in front of her.

Danielle Dolan lives a few doors down from the suspect’s home.

“I don’t know what his issue was, if he had an issue with people’s pets, animals, but he’s obviously a loose cannon,” she said.

Ables—already a convicted felon—is currently on probation, according to Dolan, following a separate incident involving her grandfather.

“He was mad that my grandparents’ dog wasn’t on a leash, so he came out of his house and maced my grandpa,” Dolan said.

Investigators say Deputy William Gentry confronted Ables at his home after the incident with the cat. Ables then allegedly fired several shots, hitting Gentry in the head. Less than 24 hours later, Gentry was pronounced dead at Lee Memorial.

Deputy Gentry, via HCSO
Deputy Gentry, via HCSO








The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement on Gentry’s death: 

“It is with great sadness that Sheriff Paul Blackman and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office family announces that Deputy William J Gentry Jr succumbed to his injuries at 1:10 p.m. today (Monday, May 7) at Lee Memorial Hospital.
Sheriff Blackman and the command staff are currently at the hospital with the family. The heartbreak of our members is devastating, but it is nothing compared to the loss his family has suffered.
Please keep his father, mother and brother in your prayers, as well as all the members of the HCSO and our fellow law enforcement officers around the state.
Deputy Gentry was shot shortly before 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, at a home in Lake Placid. He was airlifted to the hospital, but despite the best efforts of the first responders and the hospital staff, his wounds were not survivable.
In the true spirit of a public servant, Deputy Gentry’s organs will be donated so that some good may come out of this unthinkable tragedy.
Deputy Gentry is just the third deputy we have lost in the line of duty in the 97-year history of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, and the first lost as the result of a criminal act. Inspector James Rodgers and Capt. Robert Hopton Jr., whose names are memorialized on the rock in front of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office headquarters, were lost in a plane crash on July 10, 1995. Sadly, we will now have another name to add to that monument.
We will provide information about the services for Deputy Gentry as soon as we have them available.”


This kind of violence against law enforcement officers is significantly up. Tactics expert David Rossi says 30 officers have been killed so far this year across the nation, including nine who were ambushed.

Rossi says it’s a profession that comes with safety concerns.

“We know it’s a dangerous occupation. That star, the shield, that badge that you wear on your shirt is really just a target,” he said.

It’s a terrifying reality that Rossi admits could affect recruitment and response.

“Expect the officers to be a little more cautious when they’re making their approach,” Rossi said. “It may require an officer not responding right away, waiting for his backup to show up and then go in.”

Police Memorial Day is May 15 to honor those who have fallen. That now includes Deputy Gentry.


The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office went live via Facebook amid the announcement of one of Gentry’s death:

The Florida Sheriff’s Association made a statement on Gentry’s death:

We are devastated by the news that Deputy William Gentry has died after being shot last night while on duty serving his community. Deputy Gentry has honorably served the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for more than 9 years, currently serving as a field training officer whose contributions will forever have an impact on the agency.

We stand with Deputy Gentry, his family, his friends, and with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office during this tragic time. We are heartbroken at this reminder that law enforcement put their lives on the line every moment they are on duty for their fellow citizens. This attack is a terrible demonstration that evil lurks, and that life is meaningless to some. The Sheriffs of Florida have offered our resources to all first responders who are diligently and respectfully working on this tragedy in Highlands county, and who are investigating and bringing justice for our deputy and his family.

We thank all the counties and Sheriffs who have stepped up to help, and the community for supporting their beloved Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. For updates and for ways to help Deputy Gentry’s family, please visit the official Twitter page for Highlands County at https://twitter.com/HighCoSheriff.

Gov. Rick Scott made a phone call to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Sunday night to discuss the incident.

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