Florida police officer kills 73-year-old woman during role-play exercise
Gun firing (Shutterstock)

A Florida police officer shot and killed a 73-year-old woman in a "tragic accident" during an exercise with local residents that was meant to involve simulated lethal force, authorities said on Wednesday.

Mary Knowlton was hit by a live round fired by an officer on Tuesday night at a two-hour event hosted by the Punta Gorda Police Department at its academy for about 35 members of the community.

“I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event," Police Chief Tom Lewis said in a statement. "Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”

Knowlton, who according to local media was 73, had been selected for a role-playing exercise involving decisions about when to use lethal force, the statement said. She was pronounced dead after being taken to a local hospital.

The police department said the officer involved, who has not been named, will be on administrative leave during an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Punta Gorda is a city of about 18,000 people located on Florida's west coast, about 30 miles north of Fort Myers.

"The Punta Gorda Police Department realizes the community has many questions about this incident," the agency's statement said. "We also must take great care to not jeopardize the investigation."

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)