Gay dog walker fatally shot by gunman who ‘hurled homophobic slurs’ and said ‘you’re going to die’

Composite image showing John Walter Lay on the left, and a picnic bench at the dog park on the right.

Last week, a 52-year-old gay man was fatally shot in a Tampa dog park in what his friends are describing as a hate crime.

When he was shot, the victim had reportedly just had a run-in with another man who had allegedly been harassing him at the park for months, repeatedly threatening him and hurling homophobic slurs.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that the day before a man fatally shot John Walter Lay – known as Walt –  Lay recorded a video of himself speaking directly to the camera, explaining, “So this morning while I’m walking — and we’re the only two here — (the gunman) 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.”

Friends of Lay told The Tampa Bay Times that the next morning, at the same park and at about the same time , the man shot Lay dead.

A local sheriff’s office have confirmed that 65-year-old Gerald Declan Radford was the shooter. He claims he shot Lay in self-defence. However, his friends don’t agree that would have been the case.

“In my opinion, there’s no way in hell this is really self-defense,” said Albert Darlington, 68, who was Lay’s friend and landlord. “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. 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.”

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Florida has been a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ+ activity recently, much of it instigated by Republican governor Ron DeSantis. In May 2023 alone, six new bills were signed by DeSantis in attacking LGBTQ+ rights in the state.

In response to that, Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign issued updated travel advice for LGBTQ+ people considering visiting or moving to Florida, telling queer people to “reconsider” their plans and that it was not a safe place for LGBTQ+ travellers to visit.

A photo of John Walter Lay where he is wearing sunglasses and wearing a grey t-shirt
A photo of John Walter Lay, taken in 2018 (Facebook)

Lay’s friends told The Tampa Bay Times that he worked in customer service for a health care company, and delivered food and drove for Uber in the evenings. One of his friends added, “He was nice to everyone and treated everybody as a human being.”

His friends claim that Lay and Radford were initially on friendly terms. But after Radford found out that Lay was openly gay, Radford began to target Lay, calling him slurs when he was walking in the park. It’s said that Radford’s politics ‘leaned to the right’.

The Tampa Bay Times reviewed Radford’s Facebook page and found that it included reposted memes that were disparaging to LGBTQ+ people.

It’s believed that the shooter is yet to be arrested or charged.

”We looked around at each other and I thought, this guy just killed our friend and he is not in handcuffs?” one of Lay’s friends is reported as saying. “It was unbelievable to us.”

As the community mourns Lay’s loss, his faithful dog Fala stands as a poignant reminder of his enduring legacy. Lay’s final wish was that a friend in Tampa would take in his dog if anything happened to him, as he wanted to ensure Fala’s continued care within the familiar confines of the Tampa community he called home.

Lay’s friend intends to continue to walk Fala in the dog park despite the fatal attack, explaining that Fala “would be happier with the Tampa pack he already knows”.

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