Colleagues of Special Agent Daniel Alfin remember the time he wouldn’t leave the water.
Alfin donned a wet suit and dove into Florida’s Lake Lelia in murky conditions, searching for a cell phone that investigators hoped would help them find clues in a child’s death. Hours after other divers had left the water in August 2020, Alfin was still there. The water was only a few feet deep, so he could breathe. Alfin was so tall that agents could see his head bobbing up and down as he searched.
“He’d say, ‘I’ll go another pass,’” said Special Agent Wende Bardfeld, leader of the FBI Miami Underwater Search and Rescue Team (USERT). “He was so determined. He just would not get out of that water.”
It’s a story that reminds his colleagues of his quiet, unwavering commitment to protecting children. That’s exactly what he and his colleague Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger were doing when they were shot and killed by a suspect in a crimes against children investigation on February 2, 2021. They were trying to enter his home in Sunrise, Florida, with a court-ordered search warrant.
“He was so determined.”
Wende Bardfeld, special agent, FBI Miami
Schwartzenberger was similarly passionate about protecting kids. In addition to her regular duties, she frequently spoke at local schools, encouraging children to stay safe online.
“She always volunteered to take on any type of mission,” said Special Agent Alejandro Galeano. “Laura was just very involved. She was so good in her interactions with kids and other people. No matter how hard things were, she was always smiling, always laughing. She made everyone at ease.”
Alfin and Schwartzenberger did some of the hardest jobs the FBI has to offer. Besides investigating emotionally taxing violent crimes against children cases, Schwartzenberger and Alfin were both members of Miami’s USERT, or dive team, which is one of the most dangerous jobs in the Bureau.
Last week, to mark the first anniversary of the agents’ deaths, the office’s staff planted a Royal Poinciana tree next to a lake on the field office’s property. They also placed a memorial wreath on a plaque in front of the office. And in a nod to both agents’ shared passion for fitness, field office personnel took part in several group workouts, including an elaborate fitness obstacle course that involved wall climbing, car pushing, and running. They did a workout known as “Laura’s WOD”—or workout of the day—that required pushups and jumping over rowers in 80-degree Florida heat.
“She always volunteered to take on any type of mission.”
Alejandro Galeano, special agent, FBI Miami
FBI Miami Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro plants a tree on the FBI Miami Field Office's property in memory of Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger. A wreath is placed on the memorial plaque in front of the FBI Miami Field Office. FBI crisis response canine Wally comforts the families of the fallen agents during the tree planting ceremony.
A year after the loss of Alfin and Schwartzenberger, the FBI’s Miami Field Office is still grieving, but moving forward—determined to forever honor their fallen colleagues’ memories and live up to the high standards they set.
“They were such hard workers to begin with, so those days when it’s tough, we just want to be able to perform at their level,” Galeano said. “We just move forward knowing that their mission was to protect children and to find and recover evidence in austere environments underwater, we want to do that too. And I believe the rest of the office wants to do that as well. It helps us to move forward.”
They find solace in hard work—the office is as busy as ever—and leaning on each other. Special Agent Heather McPherson, who served with Alfin and Schwartzenberger on the dive team, said immediately after their deaths, she only found comfort in spending time with others on the dive team, who knew them as well as she did.
“Our first dive job after the event happened, the lack of their presence was definitely known. But everybody being together and continuing on together really helps the healing process,” she said.
As for Alfin and Schwartzenberger’s teammates on their violent crimes against children squad, they are also leaning on each other and into the work.
“We lost coworkers, we lost friends, but what the families lost is irreplaceable,” said Supervisory Special Agent Christina Bedford. “We try to remember them, with the ceremonies that we did this week, to show the families that we’ll never forget. There’s just nothing we can say or do to bring them back. We can only hope to carry on their legacy moving forward.”
“We lost coworkers, we lost friends, but what the families lost is irreplaceable.”
Christina Bedford, supervisory special agent, FBI Miami