MIAMI GARDENS — A flyover of police helicopters pierced the stormy skies above Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, as federal officials and law enforcement agents joined the loved ones of slain FBI Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger in a memorial service following one of the deadliest days in bureau history.
“Even the heavens are crying,” said Father James Quinn, chaplain for the FBI’s Miami office, where the 43-year-old agent worked.
The rain would eventually relent. Those who knew her best said Schwartzenberger never did.
When she wasn’t investigating child-pornography cases or conducting underwater rescue searches, the married mother of two would attend her sons’ lacrosse games and work the sidelines as a volunteer photographer, capturing action shots to send to the families of their teammates.
As a special agent in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she became the first — and remains the only — female member of the SWAT team. To make the cut, agents must be able to do two pull-ups while carrying a 25-pound weighted vest. Schwartzenberger, who trained in CrossFit exercises and ran obstacle courses, did five.
“She led a life of sheer determination, dedication and courage,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray, who spoke at the memorial service.
Her close friend Brenda Chavez put it plainly — calling Schwartzenberger the “biggest badass I know.”
Schwartzenberger, a native of Pueblo, Colorado, was killed Tuesday while attempting to serve a search warrant in a child-pornography investigation. Special Agent Daniel Alfin, 36, was also killed when the man at the center of the investigation, David Lee Huber, opened fire on the agents. Four other agents were injured and have since been released from the hospital, the FBI said Saturday.
Schwartzenberger is survived by sons Gavin and Damian, and husband Jason.
“You blessed the life of each and every person you touched,” Chavez said. “We will never forget you.”
A champion for children
It was in the FBI’s Miami office, where Schwartzenberger transferred to in 2010, that she found her calling: protecting children from abuse, Wray said.
She worked crimes against children violations for seven years, and Wray said she experienced the “very worst parts of humanity.”
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“It’s a job with high stress, high emotional toll and high burnout,” Wray said. “But Laura never stopped.”
She spoke at schools, neighborhood backyards and even to a local softball team about the predators lurking online. Schwartzenberger was the lead agent in a sex extortion case that put a Hialeah man in prison for 50 years after he posed as a teenage girl to induce about 300 boys to send him sexually explicit images of themselves.
Her impact was so deeply felt in her community that the parents of some of the victims in her previous investigations sent condolences to the FBI when they found out she had been killed, Wray said.
“They asked how they can help Laura’s two boys,” he said. “And that speaks volumes about what Laura meant to this community.”
She was also involved in the fitness community, known for her 5 a.m. CrossFit workouts. The owner of CrossFit VICE, the Coral Springs gym where she trained, has raised more than $100,000 for Schwartzenberger’s family through an online fundraising page.
Michelle Brown, the gym owner, wrote on the page that Schwartzenberger was a “true hero.” To celebrate her love of exercise, athletes “across the world” will perform a joint workout next Saturday in her honor, Brown wrote.
“I will miss our late night texts, your peaceful wisdom, your smile, seeing your braid whipping and hearing your laugh as we lifted,” Brown wrote. “A true hero, always in our hearts.”
A highly trained diver who completed 17 underwater forensic searches, Schwartzenberger was also a member of the Evidence Response Team and Underwater Search and Evidence Recovery Team. Alfin was a member of the dive team, too, Wray said.
Tuesday started how many of her days did — knocking on the door of a person suspected of possessing illegal graphic images of children, said Miami’s FBI Special Agent in Charge, George Piro.
Schwartzenberger, Alfin and other members of the FBI’s child-porn task force were executing a federal search warrant at Huber’s home in Sunrise when Huber — who is believed to have monitored the agents through a camera on his door — opened fire through the door and window, Piro said.
“I think it’s evident to everyone the risks that are associated with being a special agent in the FBI,” he said.
Wray said Schwartzenberger and Alfin, who were close friends and worked together as rescue divers, made the “ultimate sacrifice” trying to keep children safe.
“On Tuesday, we lost not one of our own, but two,” he said. “Two warriors who took on one of the hardest jobs in the FBI, crimes against children, two best friends who shared the same passion, the same determination and — in spite of all they witnessed in their extraordinary careers — the same sense of optimism and hope that comes from work that matters. Two of the very best the FBI had to offer.”