Two FBI agents were fatally shot and three wounded while trying to serve a search warrant in Florida on Tuesday, prompting a SWAT team to storm an apartment building where the suspect was holed up as neighbours huddled inside their homes. The suspect also ended up dead.
The confrontation in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Sunrise marked one of the bloodiest days in FBI history in South Florida and among the deadliest nationally as well, according to the FBI website.
The FBI agents had come to the apartment complex to serve a federal search warrant in connection with a case involving child pornography and violent crimes against children, according to FBI Miami Special Agent Michael D. Leverock and FBI Agents Association President Brian O’Hare.
Two of the wounded agents were taken to hospitals to be treated and were in stable condition, Leverock said.
The shooting happened around 6 a.m. in a middle-class neighbourhood of single-family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings located west of Fort Lauderdale, near the Everglades.
The gunfire erupted with about four shots — “Boom, boom, boom, boom!” said Julius McLymont, whose house borders the Water Terrace apartment complex where the suspect was barricaded.
At first McLymont thought the gunfire was a car backfiring, then two minutes later he heard about five more shots. He went outside and looked over his fence as police cars and ambulances rushed in. Then he saw officers working on someone lying on the ground before they loaded the person into an ambulance.
A SWAT team appeared next, with officers donning riot gear. Then they went around the building, yelling, “Go, go, go!” McLymont said. He said he couldn’t see the apartment where the shooting happened from his location.
Hours later, Sunrise Police urged residents of Water Terrace to remain inside their homes while law enforcement blocked the entrances to their community.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray identified the two slain agents as Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger. Wray said one of the three injured agents did not require hospitalization.
“Every day, FBI Special Agents put themselves in harm’s way to keep the American people safe,” Wray said in a statement. “Special Agent Alfin and Special Agent Schwartzenberger exemplified heroism today in defence of their country. The FBI will always honour their ultimate sacrifice and will be forever grateful for their bravery.”
Television video showed police motorcycles, with lights flashing, escorting a fire rescue truck that was bringing the body of one of the agents to the medical examiner’s office in nearby Dania Beach. Law enforcement officials from numerous agencies lined up to pay their respect as a flag-covered body was removed from the vehicle and taken inside.
Alex Piquero, a University of Miami sociology professor who has specialized in criminology, said serving search warrants at a person’s home is incredibly hazardous for law enforcement officers.
“Serving warrants, next to domestic dispute calls and high-speed chases, are among the most dangerous for law enforcement — they don’t know what awaits them on the inside,” Piquero said.
There have been several other shootings throughout the FBI’s history in which two agents have died, according to the bureau’s Wall of Honor.
In South Florida, the infamous “Miami Shootout” in 1986 claimed the lives of Agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove in a gunbattle with two heavily armed robbery suspects who were also killed. Five other FBI agents were wounded in that shooting, which led the bureau to upgrade the weapons that agents carry.