Two FBI agents were killed yesterday and five wounded in a bloody shootout in a residential suburb of Miami that also left two bank robbery suspects dead and a street strewn with weapons and smashed cars.
FBI Director William H. Webster said the two suspects were thought to have been involved in a series of violent armored car and bank robberies.
The shootout occurred at about 9:30 a.m. behind the Suniland Shopping Center, one block off busy U.S. 1 in Kendall, a suburb southwest of Miami.
Webster identified the two slain agents as Benjamin P. Grogan, 53, a 25-year veteran, and Jerry Dove, 30, an agent for four years. Listed in serious condition in Miami hospitals were agents Gordon G. McNeill, 43; Edmundo Mireles Jr., 33, and John F. Hanlon Jr., 48. Agents Richard A. Manauzzi, 43, and Gilbert M. Orrantia, 27, were treated and released.
Joseph V. Corless, head of the Miami FBI office, said the agents were in the neighborhood spot-checking cars as part of a task-force investigation into the robberies when they recognized the license plates on the suspects' car.
Speaking at the scene, Corless told reporters that the agents waited for backups, then tried to pull the car over. "A confrontation ensued, shots were fired," he said.
Four wrecked FBI cars provided a backdrop as Corless spoke. One had slammed into a building, another smashed into a tree alongside the suspects' car and two others apparently collided. One of them had five holes, possibly from shotgun blasts.
United Press International reported that more than an hour after the shooting, three bodies still lay on the ground and a fourth was sprawled in a bullet-riddled car. Two shotguns and two pistols were scattered across the bloodstained street.
"The FBI received information from previous investigations that this area would be the most logical place for the next bank robbery," said Al Carballosa, a spokesman for the Metro-Dade police. "In the holdups, the group would wait for the guards and just shoot them. They were ruthless."
Webster said the two dead civilians were armed with at least one automatic weapon and a modified shotgun and were the only suspects in the robberies.
He identified them as Michael Platt, 32, and William R. Matix, 35, "two particularly violent individuals who did not shoot out of excitement or fear. It was part of the modus operandi." He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is checking their backgrounds and will look into the possibility that they were raising money for an underground extremist group.
Sgt. Tony Monheim of the Metro-Dade police said Platt, a former Army Ranger, and Matix, a former Marine, ran a small landscaping business in Miami. Platt, he said, lived beyond his apparent means in a "very fancy" neighborhood.
FBI agents said the pair fit the description of two men sought by police since last month in a series of shootings at an Everglades rock pit used for target practice. They had said they were looking for two young white men thought to have stolen their getaway cars at the rock pit after shooting the cars' owners.
Webster said that at the time of the shootout, Platt and Matix were driving a black Monte Carlo stolen from the rock pit March 12. Its owner, shot four times at the pit, survived. A gold Monte Carlo used in one of the robberies, also disappeared from the rock pit, and its owner has never been found, Webster said.
Some witnesses, accustomed to encountering "Miami Vice" film crews on city streets, said they thought the shootout was a segment from the television series. Asked at a news conference here whether it would reinforce Miami's image as a crime-ridden city, Webster said its violent-crime rate has decreased.
In recent years, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has waged an advertising campaign to counter an image sullied in the early 1980s by a series of machine-gun shootouts involving Colombian drug traffickers.
Billie Holloway, who lives near the scene of the shootout, told UPI, "I thought it was another drug deal," she said. "We just heard a few shots at first. Then it was a little quiet. Then we walked outdoors where we heard a car crash. Two guys started shooting in the middle of the street.
"The gunfire was so close you could smell it," she said. "People drove through the exchange of gunfire. This is Miami. People are crazy."
Bob Stebbins, 46, who also lives in the area, told UPI he was working in his garden when gunshots started.
"There was a tremendous squealing of tires and a car crash . . . . A guy was kneeling, squatting, with a weapon in his hand, firing. There was another car with two doors wide open and a guy firing across the trunk of his car," he said, adding, "Thank God it went down at that time. If it had gone down at lunch hour, it could have been a real disaster," during the midday break at a nearby school.