MIAMI – Donald J. Pettit was a retired soldier who survived a long military career, including a terrorist bombing in Bangkok.
Tuesday morning, he lost his life in a traffic dispute.
As his daughter watched from inside the car, the federal agent was shot in the head by an angry motorist in front of the Pembroke Pines, Fla., post office.
Pettit was 52, married, the father of two children, a man who had spent a lifetime in government and military service – including a stint protecting former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
Authorities would not confirm what preceded the shooting, but federal sources close to the investigation said an argument started between Pettit and a motorist while they were driving on Pines Boulevard near the post office.
Both drivers ended up pulling into the post office parking lot, where they confronted each other, the sources said.
Pettit, a polygrapher with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was unarmed; his gun was found in his car.
A shot rang out and Pettit slumped to the pavement. The gunman fled east on Pines Boulevard in a dark gray or green Chrysler 300 – coincidentally the make of Pettit’s car.
The killer, described as six feet tall and in his 50s with a full head of slicked-back, gray hair and “saggy” cheeks, was wearing a short-sleeved, plaid green shirt.
Just after noon, roughly 200 federal and local agents, together with local police, gathered in the parking lot of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s office. There, they launched a dragnet to find the gunman.
“We’re going to saturate the area,” said Sgt. Bryan Davis, a Pembroke Pines police spokesman. “We’re going to turn over every rock.”
For hours Tuesday afternoon, a Homeland Security helicopter hovered over Pembroke Pines, and law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies were stationed at every major intersection, keeping an eye out for the getaway car.
Several cars matching the description of the suspect’s were stopped, but no arrests had been made as of late Tuesday.
“It’s a sickening thing,” Pembroke Pines Deputy Police Chief Mike Segarra said. “He did have his child in the car at the time of the shooting, which makes this more heinous.”