Two FBI agents were killed and five more were wounded Friday morning during a shoot-out in the front yard of a duplex in a usually serene Miami neighborhood.
Two suspects in a recent spate of armored car robberies also were killed in the battle, which lasted 10 minutes, involved hundreds of shots and left blood, bodies and spent shells scattered over a quiet residential street behind a shopping mall.
Both the curious and the unwitting blundered upon the scene. “I was seeing what it was all about when one of the guys--I think probably an FBI agent--hollered, ‘Get the hell out of here,’ ” said one shopkeeper who had ventured toward the commotion.
‘Oh My God, the Bodies’
He asked that his name go unreported. “In this crazy city, who knows what can happen if they find out your name.”
Lynn Gwilliams, a secretary, also scrambled toward the noise. “Hundreds of shots, we thought it was firecrackers,” she said. “Then we heard the yelling and saw the smoke and, oh my God, the bodies in the street.”
In the aftermath, the bodies lay beneath black olive and bottlebrush trees. Police covered them with yellow plastic sheets, lifted by occasional breezes to show blood-stained men in casual clothes and sneakers.
Joseph V. Corless, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami office, explained that the agents had been working on a special task force with local police to investigate bank robberies and armored car holdups.
The action began when they identified a car suspected in one of the holdups--a stolen black Chevrolet Monte Carlo believed to have been used in the recent crimes.
“The agents were doing spot checks in this area when one of our vehicles spotted this license tag,” he said.
“Apparently, when they believed they had sufficient assistance, an attempt was made to pull this vehicle over. At that point, a confrontation ensued. Shots were fired.”
The gunfire began shortly after 9:30 a.m. as the agents chased their suspects several blocks down 82nd Avenue in the middle-class neighborhood known as Kendall, on the south side of town behind the Suniland Mall.
Finally, the FBI had the suspects boxed in near a well-shaded white brick duplex. The gunmen wheeled their car into the driveway, smashed into a bottlebrush tree and came out firing, Corless said.
Saw FBI Man Slain
Bob Stebbins, who lives three doors down from the scene, told reporters: “They immediately took a couple of shots at the FBI guy and killed him. They were trying to get over to the FBI car so they could climb in and use it as a getaway car. It was a hellacious amount of fire. It reminded me of a pistol or rifle range at full firing. . . . 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.”
The FBI fought with a single shotgun and handguns. The suspects fired an automatic weapon and a modified shotgun.
Bullets punctured the auto bodies and glass shattered across the blacktop street. Wounded men crawled across the lawn. Onlookers gaped.
When it was over, police from a half-dozen departments flooded the area. A pump-action shotgun rested on the street near the left foot of one of the dead.
Comparisons to TV
Eyewitnesses said they had never seen anything like it. Inevitably, comparisons were made to television episodes of “Miami Vice.”
“The shots sounded just like popcorn going off,” said Billie Holloway, who was visiting nearby. “After a while, you could even smell the gunpowder.”
But details about how the shoot-out unfolded--who shot whom and when--were unclear.
“The agents on the scene are either dead or in the hospital,” Corless said later at a press conference. “Until we can sit down and interview them, we will not have a clear picture.”
The dead agents were identified as Benjamin Grogan, 53, a 25-year FBI veteran, and Jerry Dove, 30, a four-year veteran.
Three Agents in Hospital
Three of the FBI wounded remain hospitalized. Both John Hanlon, 48, who was shot in the thigh, and Gordon McNeill, 43, shot in the chest, were reported to be in serious condition. Edmundo Mireles, 33, shot in the left arm, was reported in fair but stable condition.
Two other agents, Richard Manauzzi, 43, and Gilbert Orrantia, 27, suffered only superficial injuries and were released.
In Washington, FBI Director William H. Webster said at a news conference that the dead robbery suspects were Michael Platt, 32, and William Matix, age unknown.
“Our information indicates these were the only two at the scene. This particular team was not known to have any other accomplices,” Webster said.
‘A Severely Felt Loss’
He said that investigators are looking for links between the robbery suspects and neo-Nazi groups. “We don’t have enough information . . . but we are looking at this aspect very, very closely,” he said.
“Today’s tragedy is a severely felt loss to the FBI,” Webster added in a statement. “It is difficult to recall so many agents killed and injured in a single incident.”
The two men are the 28th and 29th FBI agents killed in the line of duty since the bureau opened in 1908. The last time two FBI agents were killed in a single incident was on Aug. 9, 1979, when a man broke into the FBI office in El Centro and began shooting.
Webster also read a statement from Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, which said in part: “The losses we have suffered today sadden everyone in the Justice Department family.”
Times researcher Lorna Nones contributed to the reporting of this story.