FBI Director Attends First Of Two Funerals For Slain Agents
MIAMI (AP) _ FBI Director William Webster attended the funeral Monday for one of two agents slain in a gunbattle with suspected bank robbers on the bloodiest day in FBI history, and he praised the agents as heroes who gave their lives to protect others.
Webster vowed an exhaustive investigation into the duel and the background of the agents’ killers, a pair described as family men with no criminal records who also died in Friday morning’s shootout.
″Before we’re through, we’re going to know everything about them from the time they were born to the time they died,″ Webster said of the gunmen.
Webster joined more than 800 people packed into Visitation Roman Catholic Church, which slain agent Benjamin Grogan attended. An estimated 700 more, including Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno and hundreds of uniformed law-enforcement officers, their badges banded in black, stood outside.
″Like the prophets of old, Benjamin Grogan and Gerald Dove gave their lives confronting the effects of this type of moral disease,″ said Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy.
Other speakers said Grogan had once studied for the priesthood, and pointed out that he was near retirement and could have settled for a desk job without taking dangerous assignments.
Webster, who flew there by helicopter after visiting three agents still hospitalized from the shootout, said he also would attend services Tuesday in Charleston, W.Va., for Dove.
Webster said Friday’s actions by his agents were ″brave and commendable″ and declined to second-guess the weapons they carried and the way they tried to arrest two men suspected in a string of violent bank and armored-car robberies and some isolated shootings.
He said the most appropriate thing he could say to the families of the dead agents was to recall the words of a eulogist at a service for two agents killed in El Centro, Calif., in 1979, the last time two agents died together.
″He reminded everyone that they stood in our place. I think that’s very important,″ he said.
Webster said the slain and wounded agents ″unquestionably saved lives.″ He praised as ″a real hero″ agent Ed Mireles, who although seriously wounded managed to kill the two suspects as they tried to get away.
Webster visited briefly with Mireles at South Miami Hospital, where he was in fair condition, and with agents Gordon McNeill, 43, and John Hanlon, 48, who were in good condition at Baptist Hospital.
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III visited the wounded agents Sunday.
Two other agents were wounded in the shootout, but were not hospitalized.
The seven casualties were the most ever suffered in the 78-year-old FBI, even more than on any day during the bloody bank-robber shootouts in the 1930s with the likes of Charles ″Pretty Boy″ Floyd, George ″Baby Face″ Nelson and John Dillinger.
Grogan and Dove were on surveillance Friday morning in the suburb of Kendall, southwest of Miami, when they spotted a stolen car that agents said was used in earlier robberies.
Miami FBI spokesman Paul Miller said similar surveillance missions had been carried out since October and that Friday’s was set up because the robbers usually struck on Friday mornings.
When Grogan and Dove and their backups tried to arrest William Matix, 34, and Michael Platt, 32, they were met with rapid fire from a semi-automatic rifle.
Acquaintances said Matix and Platt were family men, friends who met while serving as military policemen with the Army in Korea. Webster said little was known about them, other than that they were ″brutal and murderous.″
There had been speculation by local police that the men responsible for the string of bank robberies and armored-car heists, and perhaps three isolated killings, might be members of a right-wing survivalist group.
″We have not yet connected them to anyone else,″ Webster said.
Friends said both Matix and Platt had lost their first wives to violent deaths and had remarried. Matix was recently profiled as a born-again Christian in a church magazine.