Killer sought in deadly shooting of father in Jacksonville Beach

Leon Bennett of Atlantic Beach shot early Sunday morning

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - The family of a 23-year-old father of two, who was gunned down while leaving a bar in Jacksonville Beach, is hoping an arrest is soon made in the death of their loved one.

Leon Bennett, of Atlantic Beach, was shot just before 2:30 a.m. Sunday. His stepfather, James Phillips, said Bennett was an outgoing person.

"Anybody out there who knows Leon knows who he is. He was not a gangbanger. He was not a thug," Phillips said. "He was a loving, loving person. He would give you anything."

Throughout the day Monday, people were paying their respects, visiting a memorial that was built to remember Bennett.

Jacksonville Beach police asked for help identifying the people seen in a video, showing the fight that began outside the bars. 

Police said the shooter is a man in a white, four-door sedan. On Monday, investigators released video of a person and vehicle of interest in the shooting. Several other men were also in the white sedan at the time of the shooting.

WATCH: Surveillance video of vehicle, person of interest

Phillips said his stepson was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"He (Bennett) was defending himself in that fight that broke out," Phillips said. "Those cowards decided to pull up and say, 'I'm going to do it my way.'"

Detectives believe Bennett was followed a few blocks north before he was shot near the intersection of 1st Street and 7th Avenue. Officers were seen patrolling the area Monday.

Bennett's mother, Rhonda Kelly, said she was praying for answers in her son's death.

"I have high hopes that we will have our justice, whether it be today, tomorrow, next month," Kelly said. "If you know something, please talk."

Bennett's death marked the first homicide of 2018 in Jacksonville Beach. In 2017, there were two.

Bennett's younger brother was questioned by police Monday after investigators received a tip he was carrying a gun. Officers said he was holding Bennett's gun without a permit.

Police took the firearm and released the 20-year-old. The younger brother told News4Jax he was carrying the weapon to remember Bennett and protect his family.

Family members are planning to hold a vigil in Bennett's honor. It will likely happen Tuesday.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to contact Jacksonville Beach police at 904-270-1661.

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