A gay deputy sheriff who died from coronavirus was a hero who guarded his local LGBT+ venues and pushed for diversity in the police.
Deputy Shannon Bennett served the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years. He worked in Wilton Manors, a city in Florida close to the LGBT+ resort of Fort Lauderdale.
And friends say that after the shooting at LGBT nightclub Pulse in nearby Orlando, he would park his patrol car outside venues in Wilton Manors to show they were protected.
Bennett, aged 39, contracted the virus while ‘in the line of duty’, Sheriff Gregory Tony said.
He had got on one knee to propose to his fiancé, Jonathan Frey, a few months ago in Disneyworld. And the pair were due to marry on 11 December this year.
But towards the end of March, he fell sick. Frey says Bennett developed breathing problems so they consulted a doctor on 27 March and then drove to the emergency room. Sadly, that is the last time he saw his partner.
Bennett appeared to be rallying but took a turn for the worse on 3 April and died that night of COVID-19.
‘A beautiful soul’
Frey said: ‘He was my soulmate. All he really had at first was just a fever. He had a slight headache, that was about, I want to say, a couple days before the hospital.
‘This is not the end of who he is. I care very much about him. He was the love of my life and I know his legacy is going to live on, one way or another. But he was a beautiful soul.’
His brother, Darren Bennett, has also shared heartbreaking texts between him and Shannon as the deputy fell ill.
In one, Shannon texted Darren: ‘My life is almost over soon bro. I feel like death.’
Paying tribute to his fallen brother, Darren posted on social media:
‘I love you sooo much man! You fought a damn good fight and your legacy will live on. Deputy S Bennett, take a bow.’
‘No one is going to mess with my friends’
Meanwhile Sheriff Tony has shared his memories of Bennett’s commitment to the community. He said he recently sat down with the officer to talk about increasing diversity in the department:
‘He was a part of the LGBTQ community, and he wanted to see a committee formed here at this agency. And we put it together, and he sat with members of our organizations to figure out better ways to better bond this network inside this community.’
Since his death, friends have also come forward to praise his dedication and kindness.
They told Local 10 that after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016 he gave special protection to LGBT+ venues in Wilton Manors.
He would park his patrol car outside bars and restaurants and say ‘No one is going to mess with my friends.’
Moreover, when it came to Wilton Manors Stonewall Festival, the neighborhood’s Pride event held each year in June, Deputy Bennett didn’t join the drinking party after the parade.
Friends said instead he wanted to be in uniform at the event, protecting the community and the up to 30,000 LGBT+ people and allies who join the celebrations each year.
Since Bennett’s death, Broward County Sheriff’s Office has lost another officer to coronavirus – Jose Diaz Ayala.
Naturally, friends have urged people to take the virus and the lockdown seriously.
Lillie Harris, a colleague on the force, said she was ‘devastated’ to lose her friend Shannon. And she added: ‘For those who are not taking this seriously, he was in his 30s.’