Two FBI agents were shot and killed and three others wounded early Tuesday morning as they tried to search the South Florida apartment of a suspect in an investigation of crimes against children, FBI officials said, marking one of darkest days in recent memory for the country’s premier federal law enforcement institution.
The deadly encounter was the first time since 2008 that FBI personnel were fatally shot while performing law enforcement work, and it drew comparisons to an incident 35 years ago in which two agents were killed and five others were wounded in a bloody shootout in a residential suburb of Miami. The bureau released few details of the encounter, other than to say a suspect opened fire on agents as they went to an apartment complex about 6 a.m. “to execute a federal court-ordered search warrant in furtherance of a violent crimes against children case.”
Law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said preliminary reports indicate the suspected shooter killed himself, though they cautioned that investigators were still working to piece together the precise circumstances of the encounter. Authorities have not identified the suspect, saying during a news conference Tuesday evening that they would not do so before that person’s family had been notified.
The FBI personnel killed were Special Agents Daniel Alfin, 36, and Laura Schwartzenberger, 43, who both specialized in investigating crimes against children. Two other agents were taken to the hospital in stable condition, each having been shot multiple times, and another was hurt but remained on the scene, officials said. The wounded were not identified.
“Every day, FBI Special Agents put themselves in harm’s way to keep the American people safe,” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said in a statement. “Special Agent Alfin and Special Agent Schwartzenberger exemplified heroism today in defense of their country. The FBI will always honor their ultimate sacrifice and will be forever grateful for their bravery. We continue to stand by our FBI Family, and the families of these Special Agents, in the days to come, bringing every resource we can to get through this together.”
The shooting took place at the Water Terrace apartments in Sunrise, Fla., a bedroom community just northwest of Fort Lauderdale. Royal palms line the nearby streets, with the complex itself located in a part of town where expensive subdivisions of lavish homes give way to middle-class housing. Officials said agents went to the apartment in hopes of seizing computer or other equipment from the residence when the shooting broke out.
George Piro, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office, said agents serve such warrants almost daily, and they “thoroughly research and meticulously plan to take into account any threats or dangers.” Generally, he said, the serving of warrants ends without incident and investigators continue their work.
“The operation this morning in Sunrise ended tragically, with the subject opening fire on the members of the search team,” Piro said, adding later, “Dan and Laura left home this morning to carry out the mission they signed up for and loved to do, to keep the American people safe. They were valuable members of the FBI and will forever be heroes.”
The sprawling apartment complex, cut by a canal, is gated and surrounded by mauve-colored walls, and the units are housed in taupe buildings, some of them two stories tall. On Tuesday, children in multicolored backpacks were being escorted by crossing guards across the street, where yellow caution tape marked a police cordon.
The complex is within a four-mile radius of at least three schools, including the Franklin Academy Charter School directly across the street. Some parents there on Tuesday afternoon left work to pick up their children after hearing about the shooting.
“This is scary, but it speaks to our day and age,” said Ester Fredric, 40, a retail clerk. “I feel like I need to sit down and talk to my daughter in ways she can understand. You know, ‘No strangers. Be careful.’”
David Alfin, Daniel Alfin’s father, said his son was a graduate of Florida State University who came from a family dedicated to public service. Daniel’s older brother works in law enforcement in South Florida, and his younger brother teaches at the U.S. Military Academy.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Daniel and his brothers,” David Alfin said. “I think that they were incredibly great kids that were interested in helping others, and they found a way to do that through their service commitments.”
Piro said Alfin joined the FBI in 2009 and initially was assigned to the office in Albany, N.Y. He had worked on cases involving crimes against children for more than six years and had been in Miami since 2017, Piro said. According to a 2017 FBI article, Alfin was involved in the investigation of the creator of what was believed to be the world’s largest child pornography website: Playpen. He is survived by a wife and child, Piro said.
Schwartzenberger joined the FBI in 2005 and initially was assigned to the office in Albuquerque, Piro said. She was assigned to the Miami office in 2010 and had worked on crimes-against-children cases for more than seven years, including investigating those who assume fake identities online and try to solicit or extort nude images from minors. She would periodically talk about her work and the dangers of social media to students at Miami’s Rockway Middle School, the school said in a statement.
“She would always say, ‘I feel that coming here and talking about the hard stuff means that I won’t see you guys on my end,’” the school said in a statement. “With her presentations, students would gain an awareness of online safety, cyberbullying, and experience the evidence response process of an FBI agent. … Laura’s commitment and dedication to not just Rockway, but the community as a whole, will be missed.”
Piro said Schwartzenberger is survived by a husband and two children.
“The FBI is a family, and our chosen profession is fraught with danger,” Piro said. “Today, this grim reality has taken two of our best from our family.”
Across the country, current and former law enforcement officials praised the agents and said the shooting underscored the dangers of their jobs.
“These Agents were working to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” said FBI Agents Association President Brian O’Hare. “FBI Special Agents risk their lives to protect our country, and the loss of these Agents is devastating to the entire FBI community and to our country. FBIAA hopes that all Americans will join us in our efforts to support these FBI families in this time of tragedy.”
In remarks at the White House, President Biden said: “My heart aches for the families. ... They put their lives on the line, and it’s a hell of a price to pay.”
At the Justice Department in D.C., a spokeswoman said acting attorney general Monty Wilkinson was monitoring the investigation.
“We mourn the tragic loss of two of our FBI colleagues who were killed today in the line of duty,” Wilkinson said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones and with their three colleagues who were shot in today’s devastating events. On this dark day, we pay tribute to the brave men and women of the FBI who put their lives on the line every day in support of our mission. We will never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by these special agents.”
The FBI publicly lists 81 agents and other employees who have lost their lives in the line of duty, according to an FBI site that tracks that information. The total includes several, in recent years, whose deaths were attributed to illnesses linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
According to the agency’s “Wall of Honor,” the most recent shooting death occurred in 2008, when Special Agent Samuel S. Hicks was killed while serving a warrant near Pittsburgh. Authorities were executing a warrant at a house connected to a drug-trafficking organization when Hicks was fatally shot, according to the bureau.
Faiola reported from Sunrise, Fla. Julie Tate and Mark Berman in Washington contributed to this report.