Highlands County deputy was 'hero while here on Earth'

William Gentry Jr. was 3rd Florida deputy killed in 3 weeks

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LAKE PLACID, Fla. – The heroic actions of a Highlands County sheriff’s deputy did not end with his death after being shot Sunday night. His funeral service is being held next week to allow time for Deputy William Gentry's heart, lungs and perhaps other organs to be donated.

That was among the pieces of new information that Highland Sheriff Paul Blackman provided Tuesday morning during his first news conference since his deputy was killed while responding to a call about a neighborhood dispute over a man believed to have killed a cat. It is believed that man shot Gentry in the head.

"An awesome individual," Blackman said of Gentry during his sometimes emotional remarks Tuesday. "He was a hero on Earth."

The 40-year-old deputy had been with the Sheriff's Office for nine years. He is survived by his mother, father and brother, who is a detective with the department.

According to Blackman, Gentry had spoken with Joseph Ables just before 8 p.m. and had radioed asking for a background check on him when Ables pulled and handgun and shot him. 

Gentry was airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital in critical condition, but died of his injuries that night.

Gentry had a training deputy with him at the time who was across the street with the second neighbor, heard the shot and responded. A third deputy arrived and saw the garage door of Ables' home open and him attempting to get in his car and took him into custody. 

Ables, a felon with a history of violence toward law enforcement. He is now charged with first-degree murder.

Gentry's patrol car is parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in Sebring and the site of a growing memorial to the fallen deputy. A candlelight vigil will be held at Fireman's Field in Sebring 8 p.m. Wednesday. His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. next Tuesday at the Highlands Center in Sebring.

Gentry was the third Florida deputy killed in three weeks and the 56th law enforcement officer killed in the United States this year.

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