The 'Best Breeder in South Carolina' Fatally Shot While Selling One of His French Bulldogs

"For him to lose his life over something senseless of trying to do an exchange or sell a French bulldog and for someone to take his life, that's heartless," said Lee County Sheriff Daniel Simon

Lonnie Ray: Photo courtesy of Lee County Sheriff’s Office
Photo: courtesy Lee County Sheriff’s Office

A man authorities call "the best breeder in South Carolina" is dead after he was fatally shot in a KFC parking lot while meeting someone to sell a French bulldog.

Lonnie Ray, 76, had planned to sell the dog in Bishopville, South Carolina, which is about an hour outside of Columbia, South Carolina. Ray brought a friend along for the fateful meeting on Monday, just like he had often times in the past, authorities told local CBS affiliate WBTW.

"Here he met the gentlemen," Lee County Sheriff Daniel Simon said, per WBTW. "He had a passenger in the vehicle with him. When they went to do the exchange for the dog, the guy snatched the leash from him and pulled out a handgun and started firing."

Ray was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died.

Ray's daughter, Karen Hanna, broke down while speaking to NBC News.

"Why?" she asked. "Why the Almighty God?"

She added that breeding "was his life. That's what he loved. And to have his life taken away from him ... "

Simon said, according to WBTW, that the victim had overcome serious health conditions before his death.

"Talked to the family," he said, according to the news station. "He won the battle with cancer. He was in the military, been in wars and for him to lose his life over something senseless of trying to do an exchange or sell a French Bulldog and for someone to take his life, that's heartless."

The sheriff noted that Ray's murder marks the most recent one in the area, and authorities are planning to put cameras nearby in an effort to stop any more killings.

Those with information on the tragedy are urged to call CrimeStoppers at 888-CrimeSC.

Speaking to NBC News, Simon saluted Ray as "probably the best breeder in South Carolina."

He said Ray planned to sell the dog for $2,500 after meeting the buyer online. His friend, who has not been publicly identified, was not hurt in the shooting. He said Ray had also talked to the buyer on the phone.

After allegedly firing shots at the victim, an individual took off with the dog in a sedan that was seen with three to four people inside, according to NBC News.

Though investigators are hoping surveillance footage will lead them to Ray's shooter, Simon said "it's really frustrating" that witnesses are refusing to talk to police.

"That could be your family member next," he told NBC News. "You never know when you'll want someone to speak up for someone in your family if someone do harm to ... like Mr. Ray he lost his life."

Karen pleaded for the shooter, who was still at large Thursday, to "do the right thing" and surrender to police, as well as keep the dog safe.

Local authorities are now trying to stop further crimes that happen during transactions that began online, and plan to set up a meeting area inside of the sheriff's office Bishopville precinct, Simon told NBC News.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

The theft of French bulldogs has been on the rise throughout the country in recent years. In 2021, singer Lady Gaga's French bulldogs were stolen in a violent incident during which her dog walker was shot and almost killed.

The dogs were later recovered. In December, James Howard Jackson, 20, was given 21 years in jail for shooting Ryan Fischer. Three other men have also pled no contest for their roles in the attack.

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