Episode Three: Aftermath of bloodiest day in FBI history
FBI agent credited with taking out killers recalls fateful day
After the dominoes fall on April 11, 1986, there are puzzle pieces to put together. In the days after the bloodiest shootout in FBI history, there are questions. Many. Like who are these two killers? They didn't have lengthy criminal rap sheets and their names weren't even known until after they lay sprawled out on a southwest Miami-Dade County residential street, bloodied and dead.
Then-Eyewitness News reporter John Scott reports from the scene the night of the shooting.
"As for the two suspects who died, police and the FBI are releasing very little," Scott says. "We know their names, Michael Lee Platt and William Matix. They have no arrest records locally we're told, but police believe they will be able to link the men to other crimes."
Miami-Dade Police Department Sgt. Tony Monheim is the lead investigator on the case.
"Of course, we suspect them in a variety of things," he says. "If they're this violent, of course, they will probably be involved other criminal activity. But, as I said, it's only our suspicion. We haven't confirmed anything other than the vehicle was used in a bank robbery and it was taken in an attempted murder."
Sources tell then-Eyewitness News reporter Connie Hicks that the two suspects are the robbers. Hicks reports that they "ended their career as they started it, running and gunning. The victims? FBI agents trying to stop the violence and did, but it claimed two of their own."
In an FBI training video, supervisory Special Agent Gordon McNeill reveals what Platt was doing in the days before the shootout, when he wasn't robbing banks and holding up armored cars.
"Platt had purchased over 5,000 rounds of ammunition within 10 days of the shootout," McNeill says. "The man was firing anywhere between 750 and 1,500 rounds a week out in the Everglades, so he knew what he was doing."
There is a murder scene to clean up and an investigation to conduct. Sgt. Dave Rivers of the Metro Dade Police Department is the supervisory detective in charge of the crime scene that day.
"We recovered 119 shell casings," Rivers tells The Florida Files, "and there were more shots fired because some of the stuff go blown away when a couple of helicopters came in to Medivac the injured agents out."
The white pickup
Days after the shootout, investigators discover a pickup truck. The robbers had earned the nickname from investigators as the Rock Pit Gang because they would rob and attempt to kill target shooters in nearby Homestead. Rivers talks about the white truck and other leads.
"I've done as long as five, six hours on this," Rivers says. "It's so complex and there were so many things post-shooting, you go back, you could see how this coalesced, all the way back to where the two met in the military. Very, very complex case, especially when you go back and look at all the little pieces and see how they all came together that day. Eddie calls it "cosmic dominoes" in his book. When one fell, it knocked another one over, then another, which led to this, and, boom, there you go."
Rivers continues: "One of the other leads that they had followed up, we had from another witness that followed them from one of the robberies and saw them get out of a pickup truck. So, at one point, Gordon McNeill sent his guy down on what we call, I don't know, a lead that's tedious work. He had him go up and down U.S. 1 and any pickup truck that fit the general description of the truck that those people saw, he had to take the tag numbers down. I don't remember how many there were, but they sent all that information up to Tallahassee and we collected registration information on all those trucks and a driver's license picture of the owners of those trucks. That information came back three or four days after the shooting, and one of those was Platt's trucks. Sometimes things happen. If it had happened a few days before…"
From the scene
Then-Eyewitness News reporter Susan Candiotti reports of the aftermath, investigators collecting evidence and snapping photographs of the cars riddled with bullets.
"Back on the scene, dozens of federal and county investigators responding to the call, pouring over evidence to recreate the crime, piece it together," Candiotti says. "These are law enforcement officers in the most difficult of times trying to do their jobs while unavoidably feeling the pain of a lost friend and colleague."
Candiotti, interviewed in The Florida Files podcast studio, recalls covering the story.
"What I remember about that day was when we got the call and we were racing to get there, it seemed like it would take us forever," she remembers. "Vivid in my memory was seeing police cars passing us by, speeding to get there, and I remember thinking, 'This is not good' as one car after the other after the other went by with their lights flashing down the Florida Turnpike from where our office was in Miami."
When she arrives, she says the scene of the gunfight is surreal, like something out of a movie set.
"I see myself reporting from the scene with the scene behind me," Candiotti recalls. "I can see the images as I look at them now. Remembering the cars and how they were lined up in a group where clearly that's where the chase ended and the shootout happened, and seeing the cars shot up with the windows smashed with all the bullet holes, and the crime scene tape and the blood on the street and the yellow tarps on top of the bodies that were still there."
What went wrong?
There are plenty of things to consider in the aftermath, like what went wrong that the end of Platt and Matix took so long, and that they were able to take out two agents and leave five others injured. Some of it points to the type of firepower the FBI had when faced with no-fear-of-authority killers who were using high-power rifles. The FBI agents have only shotguns and revolvers.
"Local and federal investigators are still reconstructing Friday's shootout," Candiotti reports. "They want no questions left unanswered."
On the YouTube training video, FBI supervisory Special Agent Wade Jackson says: "It has been frequently suggested that the bureau was outgunned that day."
McNeill responds: "I feel that we were adequately prepared. We had a veteran crew and we had the weapons. But we also came up against two individuals who were highly trained and highly experienced. Platt wasn't lucky with the weapon. Platt was very good."
Special Agent Brian Jerome now teaches firearms for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office in Fort Pierce, Florida.
"What comes out of this is that law enforcement realizes, 'Wait a second, we need to enhance our technique and we need to enhance our capabilities with equipment,' in this case firearms," Jerome says. "We were outgunned. We're dealing with, whether it was revolvers or semi-automatic handguns, they are going against rapid fire, what you all call assault weapons. They are military-grade weapons. You can put down a whole lot more fire and accurate at 25 or 30 years with a long-barrel weapon than you can with a handgun, and the fact that you have more rounds available and the fact that you don't have to change magazines. It was a wake-up call. These are watershed moments for law enforcement."
Three days after the shooting, FBI Director William Webster arrives in Miami from Washington to visit injured agents. He speaks to reporters.
"Their morale was high and, of course, now they are uncomfortable," he says. "They are grieving for the agents that were lost, but they are very proud of their group of their teammates and proud of the FBI and to be a part of it."
'The reluctant hero'
Special Agent Edmundo Mireles is released from South Miami Hospital thirteen days after the shootout. The stocky, former Marine is pushed out of the hospital in a wheelchair by a nurse, his left arm, shattered from gunfire, in a sling. A crowd of reporters awaits. He's greeted with cheers.
"He's the reluctant hero, FBI Agent Edmundo Mireles leaving South Miami Hospital for home," Candiotti reports. "The man credited with putting an end to the single worse tragedy in FBI history. However, the same man who stopped the getaway of two maniacal killers wouldn't talk about himself, preferring instead to praise the people he looks up to."
It was Mireles who emptied his revolver at point-blank range into the FBI car that Matix and Platt had dived into, trying to get away. Mireles staggered forward, his left arm shattered, and kept shooting, killing the pair.
Meeting the surviving agents is a memory that, despite all her work covering many tragedies, the former Local News 10 reporter, who later went on to work for CNN's New York bureau, will never forget.
"I think I had been a reporter for 10 years. I covered the school shooting at Sandy Hook. You take away from each tragedy different memories -- the people you meet along the way, the victims, the survivors," she recalls. "And that's what I remember, interviewing the survivors of this tragedy as well. I remember one, Edmundo Morales, breaking down as he recalled that he wished he could have done more or wished he could have done it sooner before his friends had lost their lives."
Mireles' wife, Liz, an FBI agent herself, had been on many crime scenes. Now retired -- she was an FBI agent for 25 years -- she tells The Florida Files that no matter how much her job prepared her, the emotions she experienced that day were like nothing she had felt before.
She was working that day.
"I got there and I saw the bloody jacket on the road. I knew immediately that was Ed's," she says. "My heart broke that day like everybody's did."
Liz had gone on her own surveillance detail and remembers leaving at 4 in the morning.
"I was mostly intelligence matters," she says. "We had done what we needed to do about 8 o'clock. We were in the Homestead area, way south. We pulled into a McDonald's for a cup of coffee. We weren't there more than 15 minutes and turned the car on. I still remember it like yesterday. The car radio was chaotic. I grabbed the mic and I said, 'This is unit so-and-so. What's the location of the incident?' And that's when they said the approximate location off Route 1. I turned and looked at Tony, my partner, who was driving, and I said, 'Something happened to Ed, I know it.' By the time we got there, they had corralled the place off with the crime scene tape, there were dozens of police cars, FBI cars and I got out of my car."
One of the agents told her that Ed was shot in the arm.
"I thought, 'Oh, OK, I can handle it,'" she says.
When she first walked into the emergency room, she says she wasn't prepared for what she saw. Ed was covered in blood.
"I had to take a step back," she says. "I've seen every kind of injury conceivable. But all I saw was blood covering his face."
Then Ed looked at her.
She remembered that he whispered to her, "I killed those sons of bitches."
That's when she knew he was going to make it.
"Well, he must be OK because he is talking to me and making sense," she thought.
Ending the gunfight
In the FBI training video, McNeill tells the story, spelling out in details those final moments when Mireles ended the gunfight.
"Platt entered Grogan's car and while getting into the car, Platt was struck in the feet from pellets from Mireles' shotgun," McNeill says. "He had fired the shotgun into the windshield of Grogan's car, which Platt and Matix had tried to use to get away, and caused it to explode. Mireles reloaded his fifth and final round. It was later determined that the two men had been struck with numerous hits from the shotgun, none of which were fatal. Ed's shotgun was now empty. A civilian witness told us that while Ed was turned away from the subjects, Platt exited Grogan's vehicle and, with ghost-like movements, walked up to Ed, fired three rounds from point-blank range, then stumbled into the car. All three rounds missed. How he missed we'll never know. Unaware that these shots had even been fired, Ed struggled to his feet, drew his revolver and started walking toward Grogan's vehicle."
McNeill continues to recite: "He said that when he got up, everything was getting dark around the edges. To combat this, he focused all of his attention on the two subjects in the car. He fired his first two rounds into Platt. He couldn't see Matix clearly, so he moved closer and fired three rounds at him. By then, he was standing right outside the driver's window and fired his last round into Platt. At this point, Special Agent Ron Risner ran across the street and told him it was all over. Although both subjects had previously received multiple hits, they were not incapacitated until they were struck in the head by these last rounds."
Mireles recalls these final rounds, too.
"You know, most gunfights, most police shootings, happen in five to 10 seconds," he says. "That's the average gunfight. Car stop. 'Hey, sir, can I see your license?' And then someone is running away or someone's down. That's how fast it happens. But this thing, it went on for like four to five minutes."
In those final moments, with his left arm completely shattered and the only thing he had to use was his six-shot .357 revolver, Mireles had to make a decision.
"I think I probably said, 'Oh, shit, I'm gonna die.' And that led to acceptance. And I'm thinking, 'Well, I'm going to die,' but then the other part of me, the Marine side and the less Christian side, said, 'Bullshit, screw this. Hey, if I'm going to die, I want to make sure they're dead.' That was half of it. The other half of it was that I still held out hope for survival."
Then he faces another grim reality.
"I didn't know whether Ben and Jerry and John were alive or dead, but it didn't look good," Mireles remembers.
Laid to rest
Three days after the shooting, 20 motorcycle policemen ride in front of a line of 220 patrol cars headed to Visitation Catholic Church, where a service is held for Grogan.
Then-Eyewitness News reporter Peggy Lewis talks to parishioners who mourned the death of Grogan.
"A lot of people are shocked," the church's pastor says. "A sense of unfairness and injustice, a great sense of wrong, a great, great tragedy. He was a very, very good man. He was a man of faith. He lived his faith, practiced every Sunday."
One parishioner expresses sadness mixed with anger.
"Nobody in the parish can believe this happened, and I think if they stopped selling some of these firearms that" -- she cuts herself off before continuing -- "I know that he was very dedicated to his work," she says.
About 800 people gather inside, but the crowd overflows and 700 people stand outside to listen to the service over loudspeakers.
Funeral services for Dove are held in West Virginia.
Webster tells reporters at the service that the FBI is investigating everything about Matix and Platt.
"In due time, we will know everything about them, from the time that they were born until the time they died," Webster says.
And what they are about to discover about the double lives of Matix and Platt, the two former Army buddies who met as military policemen in Korea, is shocking.
Shock and sadness is what their families, friends and those close to Matix and Platt are forced to come to grips with in the aftermath of one of the darkest days in FBI history.
Secrets they kept and secrets they took to their graves.
'We will never forget'
Through the years, FBI directors pay visits to South Florida for tributes to Dove and Grogan. You might be familiar with this name. Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed a crowd of several law enforcement for the 25th anniversary of the shootout in April 2011.
"Both men put country before self, they put courage before fear, they put the safety of their community before their own, and that is what special agents do. It is what they are sworn to do," Mueller tells the crowd.
There is also another familiar face from today's news. Then-FBI Director James Comey was in South Florida on April 10, 2015 for the formal naming and dedication of the Benjamin P. Grogan and Jerry L. Dove Federal Building, the new home of the FBI's Miami Division, located in Miramar. During his speech, he says that the gun battle showed U.S. law enforcement the changes needed to be made.
"That day was a day that changed not just the FBI, but all of American law enforcement," Comey says. "We have worked for three decades to make good come from that, so that lives were saved, people were protected, and the bad guys were brought to justice in a way that was not possible before that day."
Inside the Miramar FBI building, Mireles' shotgun, Jerry Dove's pistol with a bullet hole, courtesy of Platt, piercing right through the slide, the robbers' weapons and the FBI credentials of Dove and Grogan are part of a memorial display.
"We will never forget," Comey says. "This memorial is a good reminder, and it is an important thing, but even without it, we will never forget. This building is both a memorial and an inspiration."
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018
Where: Book & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL.
Info: (305) 448-9599
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