'Selfless' Florida Sheriff's Deputy, 39, Dies of Coronavirus Just Months Before His Wedding
Below Deck star Josiah Carter paid tribute to his "young healthy friend" describing the deputy as "a big brother to me, with no agenda just kindness and thoughtfulness, he guided me and reassured me that everything would be okay"
A Florida community is mourning the loss of one of their young deputies who died after contracting COVID-19 on the job, just months before he was set to wed his partner.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office announced on Saturday that Deputy Shannon Bennett, 39, had passed away following a nearly two-week battle with coronavirus.
“Deputy Bennett served BSO for more than 12 years and was a fine deputy and individual,” the department wrote on their social media accounts of the Fort Lauderdale first responder, who died from the contagious illness on Friday night.
In addition to being a longtime veteran of the department, the BSO said Shannon was “an out and proud gay law enforcement deputy; a school resource officer who protected and mentored the young students at Deerfield Beach Elementary; [and] a man in love to be wedded later this year.”
“We love and will miss you, Deputy Bennett,” the BSO added. “Thank you for your bravery, your kind heart, and your service. Rest In Peace.”
Speaking at a press conference on April 4, Sheriff Gregory Tony explained that Shannon first started feeling ill on March 23 while “in the line of duty.” The following day, Tony said Shannon went to the hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
The deputy was admitted three days later and remained under their care — even recently “showing signs of recovery” — until things sadly “took a turn for the worse” on April 3, according to the Sheriff.
“This is a reminder — to not only this community but [for] us as first responders — that we’re on the front lines with this,” Tony said. “This is a new enemy we can’t even see. We know it’s there and real and it’s impacting all of us.”
“We lose Shannon today but we’re gonna keep fighting this battle,” Tony continued. “We’re not about to throw in any towel. And if you truly support us, then take heed to all the warnings that have been provided across this planet.”
Shannon was one of 21 BSO employees who tested positive for the virus, according to Tony. Currently, there are 20 other deputies in self-isolation following their colleague’s death.
At this time, it is unclear whether Shannon had been living with underlying health conditions. A spokesperson for BSO did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
During his tenure at the department, Tony said Shannon was passionate about the impact he left on his community, especially with causes that were near and dear to his heart.
“He was part of the LGBTQ community. He wanted to see a committee formed here at this agency and we put it together,” Tony explained. “And he sat with members of our organization to figure out ways to better bond this network inside this community and he wanted to extend out to the entire Broward County community.”
“This is his vision, it’s the vision of the entire committee,” he added.
Friends of the deputy told WPLG that Shannon parked his patrol car outside of bars and restaurants in the Wilton Manors neighborhood following the 2016 PULSE nightclub shooting in an effort to protect them from another senseless tragedy.
“[He would say] ‘No one is going to mess with my friends,'” they told the outlet. “That was the type of person he was.”
Shannon’s death also comes eight months before he was set to tie the knot with his fiancé Jonathan Frey on December 11, according to a post on the deputy’s Facebook.
He and Frey set the date in February and excitedly shared the news with a sweet photo of them sitting together, showing off their rings.
In the wake of his death, many of Shannon’s loved ones have expressed their heartbreak.
His brother Darren Bennett wrote several touching posts on Facebook, noting how he felt “empty,” especially because he couldn’t be by his sibling’s side in his final moments.
“Bro I’m empty and I feel like I can’t breathe…you were my twin. My ride or die! I can’t even function right now!” Darren wrote beside several photos of the pair together. “I love you sooo much man! I can’t believe I’m even posting this!”
“You fought a damn good fight and your legacy WILL LIVE ON! I got it from here bro. Deputy S Bennett take a bow,” he went on. “To everyone else…please don’t take covid19 lightly STAY AT HOME!”
“My brother…….I COULDN’T EVEN BE THERE WITH YOU!!! I would’ve never left your side. Damn COVID19!!!!” he added in another post.
Darren also shared some heartwrenching, final text message exchanges with his brother, who said he felt like his “life is almost over” and asked that his legacy of supporting his family live on if he died.
On YouTube, Shannon’s niece Jessie Bennett remembered her uncle by making an emotional video with photos and videos of the deputy.
Below Deck star Josiah Carter also expressed his devastation about the “terrible virus” taking “one of my young healthy friends” in a post on Instagram, writing, “Words really cannot describe how I feel about this news.”
“I met Shannon only 4 years ago and we instantly became friends. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Fort Lauderdale for work,” Carter continued. “He was like a big brother to me, with no agenda just kindness and thoughtfulness, he guided me and reassured me that everything would be okay.”
“Shannon always seemed to look out for others and cared for everyone, such a selfless person,” he added.
On April 4, Shannon’s colleagues showed their respect for him by lining the streets and saluting as his body was escorted from the hospital to a local funeral home. Photographs shared by the BSO on their Facebook captured the emotional moment.
“The BSO family always stands together, bound by the service we provide to others. We thank Deputy Bennett for his service, today and always. We will never forget your sacrifice,” they wrote.
Community members also paid tribute to the fallen officer by leaving gifts and signs on Shannon’s patrol vehicle in the neighborhood where he lived “to show how much he was loved.”
“‘We wanted to share our message with everyone,’ one neighbor said. ‘He turned his lights on for our little 18-month old son one day and made him smile,'” the post read. “Rest In Peace, Deputy Bennett. Thank you for your service.”
As of Monday, there have been at least 357,036 cases and 10,522 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times. In Florida, at least 13,316 cases and 235 deaths have been reported, according to the outlet.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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