Since attending the Hartford Police Department Training Academy on October of 1970, one of my goals has been to "Serve and Protect" just like the motto that you see posted on police cruisers throughout this country. Initially, it was a rather simplistic thought, I felt because I was fluent in Spanish, I could help the Spanish community communicate their problems or complaints to those who could help resolve their problems.
Later on I felt I could use those language abilities to identify and bring to justice those who were preying on the weak or unable to speak out and complain about crimes and injustices.
As my experiences in law enforcement grew I saw my position not only as a place to help other but also as an opportunity to better myself by the training provided, and by taking advantage of the opportunities to further my education. The additional education, lead to greater opportunities in the law enforcement field. First as a Federal Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and later specializing in Fire and Explosion Scene Investigation.
My position as a Certified Fire Investigator and Certified Explosives Specialist, member of the ATF National Response Team (NRT) and the International Response Team (IRT), has afforded me the opportunities to participate in several significant incidents which have taken place in resent history, and to conduct fire scene investigations and training in interesting locations.
Du Pont Plaza Fire, San Juan, Puerto Rico
As a member of the Northeast National Response Team, I had the opportunity to respond to this major fire loss, assigned to the interview team. We faced the challenge of locating an interviewing, the survivors of the incidents, both guest of the hotels as well as employees.
My first interview was with a security guard, Rafael Vargas, who had been hired the week before the fire to monitor activities of the union members (employees). Some of Vargas' responses to questions regarding his actions just before and during the discovery of the fire, set off "red flags" in my mind, and caused me to challenge the truthfulness of his statement.
Vargas was asked to re-visit the scene with the investigators, in order to clear up some of the questions. Vargas did not want to do this, saying that it would be too emotional going back to the scene. He finally agreed when pressured to do so. The next day, when he was to meet the investigators at the scene, he failed to show.
At this time in the investigation, Vargas was suspected of being a "hero type fire setter" based on his alleged actions at the scene and his responses to the questions posed to him by the investigators.
Vargas was eventually located at one of his two part time jobs, and convinced to return to the scene of the fire, along with the investigators. At the scene Vargas was very emotional, crying and carrying on in a way that the investigators suspected that there was something more than just emotions causing his reactions.
A subsequent interview with Vargas, uncovered the fact that the had allegedly observed the conspirators setting the fire, but fearing for his safety had failed to act, and thereby feeling a sense of responsibility for the death of ninety six people, and the injuries to many more.
Having had the opportunity to work an investigation of this magnitude, and having interacted with so many other investigative agencies continued to fuel my desires to learn all that I could about the fire scene and post blast scene investigation.
UNABOM, post blast scene investigation at Yale University
I responded to this incident along with the members of the New Haven Connecticut Arson Task Force, which consisted of personnel from the New Haven Fire and Police Departments, the Connecticut State Police, and the Office of the States Attorney for New Haven County. My expertise in post blast scene investigation came in handy at this incident. We were able to find enough evidence of the explosives device, to be able to match it to other devices which had been sent around the country by the UNABOM suspect, eventually identified as Theodore Kesinski.
L.A. Riots, Los Angeles, California
This response to assist the L.A. City Fire Department with the large number of fire scenes, as a result of the "not guilty" verdict during the Rodney King police brutality trail. I was part of the response by ATF Certified Fire Investigators, to assist with the scene investigations.
All the ATF CFI's who participated helped to conduct over one thousand fire scene investigations and examination in the space of about three weeks. Some of these investigations resulted in arrest and prosecutions of the subjects responsible for setting the fires.
TWA Flight 800 Investigation
The response to the site of the investigation came as part of the investigative assistance provided by the New York ATF Office, in the investigation of this tragic incident. I was assigned to both the "Fire" group and the "Explosives" group who would be looking at the evidence, recovered from the Long Island Sound, and assisted in the reconstruction of the Boeing 747-100.
Not only was this an extremely tragic event due to the large loss of life (230 people perished in this accident), but also the complexity of the investigation, being that all the physical evidence of the incident had to be recovered from the depth of 125 feet at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
All possible scenarios (accidental or a terrorist act) were examined and eventually eliminated, to assure that the possibility of another like event would never happen again.
Abortion Clinic Bombing, Birmingham, Alabama (Eric Rudolph case)
This response was part of the ATF National Response Team activation to this incident and to assist the Birmingham, AL Police department.
This involved working the scene, recover evidence of the explosives device, re-construct the device, and to identify the perpetrator of this heinous act.
My personal activities involved the working of the scene in particular the area of the blast seat of the explosives device, in an attempt to recover device component, which would assist in the reconstruction of the device, and possibly the identification of the bomb maker.
U.S. Pentagon incident, Sept 11, 2001, Washington DC
As all Americans did on this day, I watched the events as they unfolded and were reported on the media. I immediately responded upon being activated to the scene at the Pentagon, in Washington DC, just wanting to do something to help.
The ATF South East and North East National Response Teams responded to field in Pennsylvania, where flight 93 had crashed, and the Pentagon site, to assist with the processing of the scene. I participated in the response to the Pentagon, as part of the Southeast team response, and participated in the scene processing.
In addition to responding to major scene investigations, I have had the opportunity to share some of the knowledge, expertise and experiences while teaching fire scene investigation, post blast scene investigation.
As the Arson and Explosives Programs Manager at the ATF National Academy, I conducted both "live explosives" and "live fire" training sessions. The "live explosives" involved the set up of explosives demonstration, the detonation of explosives devices in vehicles and buildings so that the students could experience what a "real" post blast scene looks like. In addition we conducted a training session on "hands-on" explosives training, where the student constructed and later detonated live explosives devices.
The "live fire" training involved both conducting demonstrations of fire development and progression through a structure, also the setting up of scenarios and setting fire to them, bringing them to the "flashover" phase and then suppressing the fire, so that the student would be conducting a "fresh" fire post fire investigation.
Some of these training scenarios have also been conducted outside of the United States. Some were conducted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia, San Jose, Costa Rica and Santiago, Chile.