Highlands County sheriff speaks of fallen deputy at press conference

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Highlands County sheriff Paul Blackman spoke of Gentry fondly as he shared a memory during a press conference Tuesday morning.

“Actually I was a watch commander, and his first squad —yeah this is gonna be hard, his first squad was with me and this first assignment was with me,” Blackman said.

His fellow deputies called Gentry a jokester with a genuine, kind soul.

“That was just him and the kind of guy that deputy Gentry is, or was…” Blackman said.

Sebring resident Jose Sanchez spoke of the hardships the officers face at work.

“You have to have heart for … these officers put their life on the line every single minute every second every hour of the day and they deserve the whole county to come out here and show their respect,” said Sebring resident Jose Sanchez.

“You never know what your next call is gonna bring, you never know when it might be your last or when your number is drawn.”

Blackman said Gentry was not aware of the suspect 69-year-old Joseph Abel’s past criminal history before knocking on the door.

“We were somewhat familiar, but we didn’t go there enough that we were very familiar,” Blackman said.

Brian Hass, a state attorney for the 10th judicial circuit, said the crime the suspect is accused of warrants death.

“The state of Florida provides for the death penalty, I support the death penalty especially in cases where a law enforcement officer has been murdered in the line of duty.”

Hass added the state attorney’s office will pursue the case “to seek punishment for this defendant to the fullest extent of the law.”

Deputies left Highlands County heading towards Lee Memorial Hospital with lights and sirens one day after the death of one of their own.

Betsy Edwards, of the Lifelink Foundation, expressed her condolences to the friends, coworkers and loved ones of deputy William Gentry.

“But they are finding some hope and healing through knowing that officer Gentry is going to live on through the lives that he will save through organ donation,” Edwards said.

Organ recovery is expected to happen sometime Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning — and his organs will be going to six people in need.

A candlelight vigil will happen at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Fireman’s Field on 681 Magnolia Ave. in Sebring.

The funeral for Gentry will take place at 11 a.m. on May 15 at Highlands News-Sun Center at 781 Magnolia Ave. in Sebring.

WINK News reporter Nicole Valdes has more details:

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