FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who identified Alfin and Schwartzenberger, said the two agents “exemplified heroism today in defense of their country.”
“The FBI will always honor their ultimate sacrifice and will be forever grateful for their bravery,” Wray said.
Each had a track record for pursuing investigations into child pornography and for arresting its perpetrators. Sometimes their work made headlines. But often, it played out in the shadowy corners of the dark Web or in legal briefings and courtrooms. They gave presentations to schoolchildren and carried out sweeping inquiries into the abuse of minors. It is high-stakes work, and they were fiercely devoted to it.
“It’s the same with any criminal violation: As they get smarter, we adapt, we find them,” Alfin said of investigating child pornography and abuse, in a 2017 article on the FBI’s website. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game, except it’s not a game. Kids are being abused, and it’s our job to stop that.”
David Alfin, Daniel Alfin’s father, told The Washington Post that his son came from a family dedicated to public service. Daniel’s older brother works in law enforcement in South Florida, and his younger brother teaches at the U.S. Military Academy in New York.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Daniel and his brothers,” David Alfin said. “I think that they were incredibly great kids that were interested in helping others, and they found a way to do that through their service commitments.”
Alfin, 36, started as a special agent in 2009 and was formerly based at FBI headquarters, where he handled major cases of violent crimes against children. In 2015, he was involved in the bust of a man in Naples, Fla., who was running what the bureau dubbed “the world’s largest child pornography website.” The site, known as Playpen, had more than 150,000 users worldwide.
The FBI tracked down Playpen’s administrators, took control of the website and kept it running for about two weeks — a controversial decision that the bureau said was key to pursuing thousands of users viewing, sharing and producing child pornography. Officials called the investigation “unprecedented in its scope and reach.” They said it led to nearly 900 arrests in the United States and abroad, and it helped rescue or identify more than 350 children. The site’s three administrators received 70 years in combined prison time.
Alfin, who was born in New York, is survived by his wife and child.
Schwartzenberger, 43, had been with the FBI since 2005 and also specialized in crimes against children.
She worked in the bureau’s Miami field office, investigating people involved in the sexual exploitation of children and the con artists who try to convince their victims that they have sexually explicit photos and videos of them to coerce them into paying a ransom.
She conducted several child exploitation investigations that led to seizures of child pornography and convictions of perpetrators, as in the case of Patrick Killen, who was convicted of possession, production and distribution of child pornography in 2015.
In an interview with CBS12 News in West Palm Beach, Schwartzenberger warned that these so-called “sextortion” scams are “very traumatizing for the victim” because their “reputation is on the line.”
Before moving to Florida, Schwartzenberger worked out of the FBI’s Albuquerque division, conducting drug-trafficking and gang investigations.
In recent years, Schwartzenberger has given annual presentations at a Miami middle school, where she spoke about cyberbullying, the dangers of social media and how to be safe online. Every year, she would tell the students, “I feel that coming here and talking about the hard stuff means that I won’t see you guys on my end,” according to a tribute Rockway Middle School posted on Twitter.
Schwartzenberger “would always answer all the students’ questions directly with care, but with firmness, to always remind them of the real world,” the school’s statement said.
“Laura’s commitment and dedication to not just Rockway, but the community as a whole, will be missed.”
Schwartzenberger, born in Colorado, is survived by her husband and two children.
According to the FBI’s “Wall of Honor,” 81 agents and other employees who have lost their lives in the line of duty, including deaths in recent years attributed to illnesses linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Schwartzenberger is just the sixth woman among them.
In a Tuesday news conference, the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Miami field office, George Piro, said it was “a dark day for the FBI.”
“Dan and Laura left home this morning to carry out the mission they signed up for and loved to do — to keep the American people safe,” Piro said. “They were valuable members of our team. They will forever be heroes. We will always honor their ultimate sacrifice.”
Florida state Sen. Lauren Book, herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said Alfin and Schwartzenberger were heroes who protected children from sexual abuse and exploitation, which Book said has been exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our community will never forget these agents’ bravery,” Book said. “We are safer because of their service.”
Alice Crites, Paulina Firozi, Julie Tate and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.