Philadelphia's rainbow LGBTQ flag outside City Hall flew at half-staff Friday as the city's sheriff’s office mourned the loss of an up-and-coming deputy and LGBTQ community leader.
Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin was found dead at his desk in the Center City office of the sheriff Friday morning.
“This is a tragedy for the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Austin’s family and the local LGBTQ community,” Sheriff Jewell Williams said.
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Austin, a veteran of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, was 27 years old.
“Dante was a person who believed in and cared about everybody,” Williams said. “He had the highest score on the Deputy Sheriff’s exam when he was hired in November 2013. He was our first openly gay deputy sheriff and we promoted him to become our first LGBTQ community liaison in May 2017.”
Austin’s death came ahead of Philly Pride festivities this weekend. The Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs called Austin a "fierce advocate for the LGBTQ community.
"Dante worked tirelessly, always, to lift up the most marginalized among us, to secure safety and protection for the most vulnerable, and to serve his community with unparalleled dedication and a warmth and generosity that moved so many of us," the commission said in a prepared statement. "Dante’s legacy is one of boldness, bravery, compassion, and an unfailing commitment to a kinder and more just world for all."
Austin is believed to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the sheriff’s office said. The medical examiner has yet to release an official cause of death.
Austin was scheduled to be promoted to sergeant next month, Williams said.
The William Way LGBT Community Center on Spruce Street in Center City is holding a community event between 3 to 4:30 p.m. Friday to lend peer support to members of the community.
SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.