Manhunt under way for Fla. officer's killer

Wife of federal agent killed in Pembroke Pines appeals to public for help

Related article:
Customs agent shot dead at Fla. post office

By Brian Haas, Rafael Olmeda, Robert Nolin, Macollvie Jean-Francois and Juan Ortega
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — The wife of a border protection agent shot outside a Pembroke Pines post office building as his young daughter watched made a tearful appeal for the public to help catch his killer today.

"We need to find him before he hurts more innocent people and destroys more families," Ileana Pettit said during a short news conference at a command post police have set up near the post office.

More than 200 law enforcement officers are looking for the gunman who killed Donald Pettit, 52, in the parking lot of the South Florida Processing and Distribution Center on Tuesday morning.

Pettit's 12-year-old daughter witnessed the slaying, police said.

Police spokesman Sgt. Bryan Davis said the shooting was the result of an "altercation," but he declined to give more details.

Authorities announced today that the reward for the killer's capture has been increased to $275,000.

Ileana Pettit said her husband was "a very loving father" who served his country in the military and in federal government. In addition to the 12-year-old, the Pembroke Pines resident left behind another daughter who will turn 15 on Thursday, she said.

A big party had been planned for the girl's birthday, but that will be cancelled, Pettit said.

"We really need your help," she said, speaking in English and Spanish. "This man has destroyed my family."

Authorities think Donald Pettit's shooter fled in a newer model, metallic green Chrysler 300.

"We're not going anywhere until this ends," said Deputy Pembroke Pines Police Chief Mike Segarra at a news conference late Tuesday night. "I want this guy to know we're going to find him. He's not going to hide."

Pettit, a longtime federal employee, began working as an internal affairs investigator for U.S. Customs and Border Protection earlier this year.

Segarra said Pettit was a 20-year Army veteran and spent 15 years as an investigator with the Food and Drug Administration before joining border protection in January.

Officers from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies wore bullet-proof vests and carried assault rifles as they scoured the tri-county area in an intense search that included at least two Blackhawk helicopters transporting men in full military fatigues.

The trouble started sometime before 9 a.m. Tuesday in the post office parking lot at Pines Boulevard and Dykes Road. There, police say Pettit and another man got into the argument.

"One shot was fired," Segarra said. "The officer was struck in the head."

Police say the suspect hopped into the getaway vehicle and sped off east on Pines Boulevard. They described him as a man in his 50s, about 6 feet tall, medium to heavy build with gray or white, bushy hair and sagging cheeks.

When police arrived at the post office, they found Pettit bleeding on the ground next to his own Chrysler 300. He was rushed to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, where he died.

"It is tragic," said his ex-wife in Kentucky, Patsy Skelley. "It is horrible. I feel bad for the whole family."

Skelley said she received a call from his sister early Tuesday.

"She just said he got shot in the head," said Skelley, in a phone interview. "I'm shocked, I don't really know what to say."

Skelley said the couple divorced 18 years ago, but she kept regular contact with his family. She said that Pettit's mother died around this time last year, making Tuesday's loss even harder for the family.

Police believe there are witnesses who can help them catch the suspect.

"Somebody had to have seen something," said Carlos Baixauli, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Pembroke Pines Police at 954-431-2225 or Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477.

Segarra called the crime a "sickening thing," but held out hope.

"We're gonna find this guy," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Staff Writers Alexia Campbell, Joel Marino and Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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