By Curt Anderson
NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The FBI commemorated one of the bloodiest events in its history Monday on the 25th anniversary of a Miami shootout that killed two agents and wounded five others, leading the bureau to adopt more powerful weapons, better body armor and improved tactics in violent confrontations.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and William Webster, the FBI director when the gun battle with two bank robbers took place, were among several hundred law enforcement personnel who gathered to honor the memories of agents Benjamin P. Grogan and Jerry Dove. Also present was a survivor who was wounded in the shootout, retired agent John F. Hanlon Jr.
"I'm very, very proud of what we did that day. We all did our duty. And we did the best we could," Hanlon said. "They laid down their lives gallantly for their country."
On April 11, 1986, the FBI agents were closing in on a pair of robbers who had shot several guards during a string of bank and armored car robberies. Following them in cars through a quiet neighborhood south of Miami, agents saw the pair loading a weapon and decided to make a traffic stop that ended with one agent ramming the suspects' car.
Hanlon said that earlier that morning Grogan, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, knew they'd probably run into trouble once they caught the men later identified as William Matix, 24, and Michael Lee Platt, 32.
Quoting Grogan, Hanlon said: "There's not going to be any trial when we find these guys."
As soon as their car stopped, the suspects opened fire with a shotgun and a .223-cal. Ruger Mini-14 rifle, which packed more power and carried more ammunition than anything the agents had. Some had semiautomatic handguns and one had a 12-gauge shotgun, but many only were armed only with difficult-to-reload revolvers. Only two wore body armor, and even that wasn't strong enough to stop the rifle's rounds.
Grogan, 53, and 30-year-old Dove were both shot and killed by Platt with the rifle. Platt also shot the five other agents who survived before one of them _ Edmundo Mireles Jr. _ shot and killed both suspects despite having use of only one arm. He survived and was awarded the FBI's Medal of Valor.
Mueller called the shootout "one of the most difficult and dangerous days in the history of the bureau." More than 140 shots were fired in a little over five minutes. One witness said he thought an episode of TV's "Miami Vice" was being filmed until he saw the blood.
Webster, who is also a former federal judge and ex-CIA director, said the Miami battle changed FBI thinking on weaponry. Before then, use of more powerful firearms was considered too risky because of possible injuries to bystanders.
"This brought home that we were outgunned. We shouldn't let that happen again," Webster said. "We translated some of that day into improvements to make (agents') chances of survival that much better."
FBI agents now carry a .40-cal. semiautomatic handgun and all have access to body armor in potentially violent situations. Training was changed so that agents could better cope with similar confrontations.
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Since 1925, 36 FBI agents have been killed in the line of duty, including one who died in the 9/11 terror attacks in New York. At Monday's ceremony, each name was read aloud and a single rose placed in a vase to memorialize them.