A Gay Man Was Fatally Shot at a Florida Dog Park — The Gunman Was Quickly ID'd But Hasn't Been Charged

Friends say the man who fatally shot John Walter Lay harassed him, but no charges have been filed and the investigation is ongoing, according to authorities

<p>Justice4Walt/ Facebook</p> John Walter Lay

Justice4Walt/ Facebook

John Walter Lay

The West Dog Park in Tampa, Fla., was John Walter Lay’s home away from home. It’s where he made numerous friends and let his beloved dog Fala run free every day. But to the shock of his loved ones, it's also where Lay, 52, was shot and killed on Feb. 2.

The gunman was identified as Gerald Declan Radford, 65, another frequent park goer, but he is currently not facing any charges in connection with the fatal shooting, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Four days after the shooting, the sheriff's office said "there is no danger to the public," but now a month later, they say the investigation is still active.

Radford claims that Lay attacked him and the shooting was self-defense, but Lay’s friends believe it was a targeted attack — and they have video evidence they say bolsters their claim.

In a video that Lay — who friends affectionately called Walt — sent to his best friend and fellow dog park visitor Kim Wolfley one day before he was killed, he relays a tense encounter he allegedly had with Radford that morning.

“So this morning while I’m walking, we’re the only two here, and he comes up to me and screams at me, ‘You’re going to die, you’re going to die,’ and I asked him to just leave me alone, and so far he has,” Lay says in the video, which Wolfley didn't see until after Lay was killed the following day.

"This to me sounds like it was premeditated," Wolfley, who met Lay at the dog park more than five years ago, tells PEOPLE. "It just floored me when I saw the video."

<p>Courtesy Photo</p> John Walter Lay with his dog Fala

Courtesy Photo

John Walter Lay with his dog Fala

Samantha Hitchcock, another friend of Lay’s, alleges that Radford had harassed Lay for at least two and a half years before the shooting. She also claims to have heard Radford hurl homophobic slurs at both her and Lay on numerous occasions — and said that she knew Radford carried a gun in his truck.

“Walt never instigated anything at all,” Hitchcock tells PEOPLE. “He always walked away. He would say, 'Leave me alone.' He was just that type of person.”

<p>Courtesy Photo</p> John Walter Lay and Kim Wolfley's dog Loki

Courtesy Photo

John Walter Lay and Kim Wolfley's dog Loki

Lay and Radford would disagree on topics such as politics and vaccines, according to Wolfley, but Lay consistently tried to distance himself from Radford as much as he could while they were both at the park.

“[Radford] just started feeling ostracized, or as an outcast, he apparently told somebody,” Wolfley believes. “And his hatred just increased.”

After Lay was killed, Radford allegedly texted Lay’s friend and landlord a photo of himself with marks on his face. The message, which was viewed by PEOPLE, reads in part: “I’m so sorry to tell you, Walt attacked me at the park and I had to defend myself.” A follow-up message says: “I really had no choice he was too crazy.”

When reached by a Tampa Bay Times reporter and asked about the shooting, Radford said: "I was attacked. I defended myself. End of story.”

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But Lay’s friends — including Wolfley, who remembers her best friend as "the funniest, kindest, gentlest soul who you could ever meet" — have never believed this version of events.

Hitchcock claims that three years ago she had a confrontation with Radford, which ended with him calling her homophobic slurs, and Lay witnessed it. She says Lay was the one who encouraged her to walk away from Radford instead of continuing to fight.

“That's the type of man Walt was,” she says. “He didn't believe in confrontation at all. I went through some of the hardest times in my life, and the dog park was where I found peace, because I was able to actually sit down with Walt in the afternoons, in the mornings, and actually talk to him about it when it was just him and I.”

<p>Courtesy Photo</p> John Walter Lay and Luna, another one of Kim Wolfley's dogs

Courtesy Photo

John Walter Lay and Luna, another one of Kim Wolfley's dogs

When reached by PEOPLE, Radford declined to comment, but added that this is a "hugely difficult time." The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office declined to provide further information, citing the active investigation.

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