A real family man: community remembers father killed after North Marion Middle School award ceremony

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — The family of a man gunned down in the parking lot of North Marion Middle School remembers him as a loving father to four children.


Marion County deputies say Joseph James Coles was shot and killed by his ex-wife’s fiancé Wednesday evening.

It happened as dozens of families gathered at the school for an end of the year award ceremony.

According to Coles’ family and friends, he was there to watch his son receive an award when he was senselessly murdered by 34-year-old Roderick Watson.

Witnesses said there was a verbal disagreement about who was taking the children home for the night.

According to Marion County deputies, numerous witness watched as Roderick grabbed a handgun, shot Coles 6 times, punched Coles’ lifeless body, then waited to be arrested.

" We found him sitting on a bench up front of the school with a smile on his face,” said Lt. Paul Bloom with the Marion County Sheriff’s office.

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On Thursday, Channel 9 spoke with Coles’ longtime friend and roommate Woo Hicks. She said Coles was proud to watch his son receive an award, and was holding his youngest daughter’s hand right before he was shot.

“Why would you do that in front of his kids. Why would you do that,” said Hicks.

Hicks told Channel 9 Coles never raised his voice when he was senselessly gunned down.

Despite a difficult divorce, Hicks said he consistently was there for his kids.

“He didn’t just give money to his children, or child support for his children. He was in the life of his children,” said Coles’ pastor, Sophilia Givens.

Givens recalled Coles bringing his children to church events and proudly watching them in church performances.

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Givens said Coles died trying to spend time with the people he loved most.

“He went out displaying what he lived for. Every breath Joey (Coles) had he thought about his children. And that is how he left this world,” said Givens.

According to Marion County deputies, the suspect told deputies he shot Coles out of self-defense. But deputies said the evidence shows this was a homicide.

According to Lt. Bloom, Coles was unarmed and was running away from the suspect when he was first shot.

Witnesses said Watson “grabbed the victim by the back of the neck and shot him near point-blank in the upper back.”

Witnesses also said the Coles never raised his voice and “stated the victim was very calm in volume and mannerisms during the argument that proceeded the shooting.”

Watson is charged with homicide and makes his first appearance Friday morning.

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