Lonnie A. Ray of Darlington County, S.C., had bred and sold dogs for a while, and he knew what safety precautions to take when arranging a sale, according to Daniel Simon, the sheriff of Lee County.
On Monday night, Sheriff Simon said, Mr. Ray, 76, brought a friend along for the planned sale of a French bulldog for $2,500, which was to take place at a public spot — the parking lot of a KFC in Bishopville, S.C.
But the sale, which was planned online, never happened. Instead of encountering a buyer, Mr. Ray was attacked by three or four people and shot at least three times, the sheriff said. They also took the dog, a puppy. Mr. Ray died an hour later at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in Hartsville, S.C.
“He’s a cancer survivor, he’s been in the Vietnam War. He survived that,” Sheriff Simon said. “He thought that he was just going to make a sale of a dog. He not only loses the French bulldog, but he lost his life in the process.”
The assailants also shot at Mr. Ray’s friend, a 77-year-old man, but he was uninjured. The three or four attackers were still at large on Wednesday night, and the dog was still missing.
“We consider them armed and dangerous,” the sheriff said. “It’s uncalled-for. It’s just senseless and heartless.”
The brazen and deadly robbery was particularly surprising as Lee County, a calm community of about 16,000 people with manufacturing plants and farming area about 50 miles from Columbia, S.C., generally has only about three to five homicides a year, the sheriff said.
French bulldogs have become one of the most expensive dog breeds in the United States, with prices sometimes reaching $6,000 for a puppy. And people who have them have increasingly been the victims of gunpoint robbery in places including Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston and across California.
In 2021, Lady Gaga’s dog walker was choked and shot during a robbery of two of the singer’s French bulldogs in Los Angeles. The shooter was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Video footage from a camera at the KFC, which is along Interstate 20, did not capture the shooting, Sheriff Simon said. The sheriff’s office is cleaning spotty footage from a surveillance camera at a nearby convenience store.
The attackers will potentially face charges including murder, attempted murder, grand larceny and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, Sheriff Simon said.
Mr. Ray, who was retired, was a dog lover who took good care of the animals he bred, which used to include hunting dogs in addition to the French bulldogs, the sheriff said. He was the father of two sons and two daughters, he said.
Mr. Ray would sell his French bulldogs when they were between six- and 12-weeks old, Sheriff Simon said.
An autopsy will be performed on Mr. Ray on Friday morning, said Larry Logan, the Lee County coroner, adding that officials will then be able to confirm how many times he was shot.
Mr. Logan said that when he was called to the hospital on Monday night, he immediately recognized Mr. Ray. The two used to hunt raccoons together more than 30 years ago.
“Lonnie was a good fellow,” he said.