Gay Tampa Man Shot, Killed at Dog Park; No Arrests Made

John Walter Lay with his dog, Fala. He was shot and killed on Feb. 2, 2024. Courtesy Facebook.

A gay Tampa man was shot and killed at a dog park earlier this month, just one day after he sent a video with a friend sharing that another man was harassing him.

John Walter Lay was killed on Feb. 2 at the West Lake dog park, where he had multiple negative encounters with Gerald Declan Radford. They were previously part of the same friend group at the park, but due to political differences, they split off.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Radford was “harassing him at the park for months, hurling homophobic slurs and threatening him.” On Feb. 1, Lay recorded a “video diary” of the incident, stating he was told to do so by police.

“[Radford] comes up to me and screams at me, ‘You’re gonna die, you’re gonna die,’” he said. “And I asked him to just leave me alone.”

To date, Radford has not been arrested. In a news release put out by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, “there are no impending charges” and the case has been turned over to the State Attorney's Office.

The Tampa Bay Times shared that Radford texted a reporter, “I was attacked. I defended myself. End of story.”

Albert Darlington, Lay’s friend and landlord, told the newspaper that before he even knew that Lay had been killed, Radford texted him a selfie with a bruised eye, saying, “I’m so sorry to tell you, Walt attacked me and I had to defend myself. I never thought he would go for me. I really sorry. I really had no choice he was too crazy.”

Darlington and other friends aren’t buying it.

“For over a year, Dec has done nothing but harass Walt. He screams and hollers and calls him a f----t every time he gets to the dog park,” Darlington told the Times. “He’ll sit there, and he’ll say, ‘I’d like to punch him right in the f--king mouth’ ... and it has gotten worse and worse and worse.”

Paul Gumpert told WTSP that he “100%” believes it’s a hate crime “because he didn’t do it to anyone else.”

According to court records, Radford has had three civil cases in the county; two for an animal at large and one for an aggressive or vicious animal.

Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, said, “It is impossible to see this senseless death outside the context of the hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the highest office in our state, and the emboldened bigotry it has inspired … We need to know this investigation is not marred by bias. Good people have to speak out on this hateful rhetoric.”

The Florida National Organization for Women also spoke up, sharing in a release, “The lack of swift action from authorities to bring charges against Gerald Declan Radford, the shooter, is deeply concerning. We demand that the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office expedite their investigation and ensure justice is served for Lay and his loved ones. No one should fear for their safety or face violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.”


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