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25-years-ago: Ambush at DC Police headquarters

A police sergeant and two FBI agents were killed

(L-R) Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Henry Joseph Daly, FBI Special Agent Special Agent Martha Dixon Martinez, FBI Special Agent Michael John Miller

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Note: This is modified from a post on the 20th anniversary

Twenty-five-years-ago today, November 22, 1994, a police sergeant and two FBI agents were shot and killed inside the Cold Case Squad offices on the third floor of the Metropolitan Police Department’s headquarters building in Washington, DC. A third FBI agent was critically wounded and almost died. The man who opened fire on them died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A handful of reporters–including me–were also on the third floor when the shooting occurred. We were at a press conference and mostly oblivious to the tragedy unfolding down the hall and around the corner. The building–300 Indiana Avenue, NW–was known as the Municipal Center. It’s a dreary 1940s government building with thick concrete walls. There were two sets of doors between the room where the press conference was held and the hallway. None of us in that room heard the gunshots.

What we did hear were sirens. Lots of them. Through the windows on the west side of the building we started to see a steady stream of police cars, fire apparatus and ambulances coming toward us. While the press conference continued, I walked toward the doors to the hallway. Through the windows in those doors I could see a lot of movement. I motioned to videographer Bill McKnight to forget the news conference and join me. We didn’t get very far. A police officer walking in the opposite direction met us between the two sets of doors. He told us to stay put because there had been a shooting down the hall. The press conference abruptly ended.

I had left my cell phone in the car, which I now regretted. My eyes immediately focused on the one phone in the room. It was on the wall. I grabbed it and let the newsroom know the situation. The assignment desk was already hearing bits and pieces of information from police radio traffic.

A young police officer manning the door told us the shooting was in the Cold Case Squad and that police officers had been wounded. Knowing a few of the people assigned to the unit, I asked if he knew anything about the wounded officers. He said all he knew is it was that older, gray haired sergeant who worked in Cold Case. A chill went through me.

It was clear he was describing Sergeant Hank Daly. Hank was a veteran detective I’d known since shortly after starting at the TV station nine years earlier. We had been introduced by my friend Mike Buchanan, a great reporter and anchor who helped get me hired at Channel 9.

Hank was one of those cops reporters called regularly for information about homicides and other news from inside DC’s police department. On occasion, I would run into Hank and his close friend Lt. Charlie Bailey at one of a number of bars in DC.

Hank’s war stories were always enjoyable and his insight into local law enforcement usually left this relatively new reporter on the beat a little smarter. A good example was an evening at the River Club in Georgetown. Sitting at the bar with Hank and Charlie, a woman walked up to say hello. We chatted briefly. When she walked away Hank looked up from his drink, raised an eyebrow and asked, “You know her?” I said, “Yes, she’s my neighbor.” Hank then informed me she also was the wife of a lieutenant to a well known organized crime figure in DC. It was a good piece of information to have in my knowledge base.

My last conversation with Hank was a week or two earlier when I checked on the status of a four-year-old murder case I had been following. From the third floor window, I realized I was likely now looking at Hank for the last time. Hank was being carried on a Reeves stretcher to the U.S. Park Police Eagle helicopter. The helicopter had landed on the plaza between police headquarters and DC Superior Court. We could see that one of the people carrying the stretcher was DC Police Chief Fred Thomas.

We were forced to stay put for a while. I was able to use the phone to provide a report for our breaking news coverage, now on the air. A radio reporter and I were “sharing” the one phone. Eventually we all were guided down a stairwell and out the building. Once outside, I joined the live shot set up on Indiana Avenue.

As the day went on, I learned of the enormous bravery that occurred inside 300 Indiana Avenue, including from some of my friends. Neil Trugman (currently Amtrak police chief) and Mike Brooks, were among the officers who immediately closed in on the Cold Case Squad, not completely aware of the situation behind those doors.

The most remarkable stories were about FBI agents John Kuchta and Martha Dixon Martinez. Despite their extensive wounds, the agents exchanged gunfire with Bennie Lee Lawson. Kuchta barely survived. Martinez and another FBI agent in the office, Michael Miller, did not.

After that tragedy, security was greatly increased at DC Police headquarters. And now, when you walk into 300 Indiana Avenue, you’ll see it’s no longer called the Municipal Center. It’s the Henry J. Daly Building.

(For a more detailed account of the shootings, I urge you to read the book “S Street Rising” by former Washington Post Reporter Ruben Castaneda.)

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