Hunting a violent career criminal wanted for murder, Miami-Dade police detectives knocked on the door of a Liberty City duplex Thursday morning. The man's mother let them in.
But Johnny Simms, a tattooed thug fresh off his most recent prison stint, refused to face justice, jumping out from another room with his pistol blazing at point-blank range.
Police bullets felled the fugitive -- but not before he shot and killed veteran detectives Roger Castillo, 41, and Amanda Haworth, 44.
The career criminal's bloody last stand rocked South Florida's law enforcement community, which has counted six other officers killed in the line of duty in the past five years.
``I know I'm supposed to say we're all children of God and that things happen,'' said an angry and tearful Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus. ``But that guy is evil. He murdered two of my people today.''
The shooting was the first double police murder in South Florida since Miami-Dade detectives Richard Boles and David Strzalkowski were gunned down at a trailer park in 1988, and the first time a female officer was shot to death on the job in Miami-Dade.
Detective Deidre Beecher survived the ambush with a minor knee injury. Detective Oscar Plasencia emerged unscathed, shooting Simms dead just outside the front door of the duplex.
The shock of the bloodletting melted into a heart-wrenching memorial hours later, as somber officers began honoring Castillo and Haworth, who boasted a combined 44 years of police experience. Both their flag-draped bodies were escorted in Fire-Rescue ambulances from the Ryder Trauma Center to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office, a block away.
A chaplain and police Honor Guard accompanied Castillo's body to the morgue. For Haworth, against the glow of red-and-blue police lights, dozens of officers on motorcycles and foot formed a neat procession -- black bands over their badges -- to accompany the ambulance, led by an officer carrying a folded flag.
Castillo, a 21-year veteran, was married to a fellow officer, Debbie. The Davie couple had three boys, ages 9, 11 and 14. Haworth, with 23 years on the force, was the single mother of a 13-year-old son she was raising in Miramar.
Both officers were part of a fugitive task working with the U.S. Marshal's Service. They had targeted Simms, who had been on the lam from Miami police since he was named in a murder warrant for the slaying of an Overtown man in October.
According to interviews with law enforcement officials, and police and court records, Simms, 22, had been in trouble since he was a teen. Officers first arrested him at 14, for larceny. In all, Simms was arrested 11 times before he was an adult on charges including burglary and auto theft, state records show. He received house arrest in some cases, while others were dropped.
His tattoos mirrored his lifestyle: a gun, flames, and the words ``savage'' and ``10-20 Life.''
In October 2005 and December 2005, Simms was arrested for separate armed robberies, one with a pistol and the second with a rifle. Prosecutors did not file charges in either case.
In 2007, Simms -- who also goes by ``Sims'' -- went to state prison for a different 2005 armed robbery and auto theft. He was released in February 2009 on probation.
Simms violated his probation when he was again arrested in June 2010, this time for robbery with a deadly weapon and selling cocaine. He pleaded guilty and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Julio Jimenez sentenced him to one year in prison plus five years' probation.
But Simms served only one month because he had earned credit for time served earlier in a Miami-Dade jail. He was released in September 2010 on five years of court-mandated ``administrative probation,'' a low-level form of supervision that does not require regular check-ins with authorities.
Simms hadn't been out a month before he was again implicated in a violent act.
According to Miami homicide detectives, Simms shot and killed Cornelious Larry, 27, on Oct. 16 in the parking lot of an Overtown apartment complex, 1535 NW First Pl.
Miami police say Simms shot Larry to death after the man began yelling and cursing at Simms' sister. Simms fled on a bicycle. Detectives searched for him for 12 days before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Diane Ward signed an arrest warrant. The charges: first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Simms had been on the lam since.
Miami police last week spotted him driving a rented car in Allapattah, according to law enforcement sources. He bailed out of the car, which was traced back to his family.
Detectives had been in touch with his relatives, trying to get him to turn himself in.
Tipsters had placed Simms in several houses in Liberty City. Miami homicide detectives turned to the county police warrants bureau, which has a squad specially trained to arrest fugitive career criminals, Loftus said. He said the assignment was routine.
``These are warrants people,'' he said. ``They do this everyday. They have an elevated level of expertise.''
Miami police Cmdr. Delrish Moss, a spokesman, agreed: ``It's not unusual for us to be assisted by county warrants in arresting the most dangerous criminals. The criminals we're dealing with don't see the difference between the uniforms or jurisdiction -- they just see cops.''
Castillo's and Haworth's squad, wearing body armor labeled ``Police,'' were dispatched to a duplex at 6112 NW Sixth Ct., in a gritty section of Liberty City just west of Interstate 95.
To get to the front door, detectives needed to walk down a narrow pathway bordered by a wire fence on one side and the duplex on the other.
Simms' mother lived at the home with some of his siblings. Sources familiar with the investigation said the detectives knocked on the door, and Simms' mother let them inside.
Just inside the living room, investigators believe, Simms jumped out of another room, firing his gun.
Haworth was shot in the head inside the home. Beecher was not hit. Castillo was shot dead just outside, in the walkway.
Plasencia, who had been behind the duplex, ran back around and -- under fire -- shot Simms dead in front of the door.
Witnesses said they heard three or four gunshots. ``It was like `Pow, pow, pow, pow,' '' said T'Shai Bey, who was at an auto body shop beside the building. ``I could see smoke. I thought it was fireworks.''
Bey walked over to the duplex and peered through the wire fence. It was partially blocked by plywood, she said. In the yard: two bodies pointing in different directions.
``Women were screaming. Babies were crying,'' Bey said. ``A lady came running out of the house asking for a cellphone. She kept saying ``I don't want my son to die. I don't want my son to die.' ''
Emergency calls immediately went out. Ambulance crews rushed to the scene, followed by detectives and top police brass from Miami and Miami-Dade, as well as elected officials.
``Unfortunately, no matter how well prepared you are, when there's a person who's willing to give their lives, they're going to have the advantage,'' said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, former director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Paramedics pronounced Castillo and Simms dead on the scene. Their bodies were covered in plastic sheets as news helicopters hovered overhead.
Haworth was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial, where she was pronounced dead at about 1 p.m. Miami-Dade homicide detectives whisked away Simms' relatives to interview them; it was not immediately clear if they could face charges in connection with the shooting, or with his time as a fugitive.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez announced the tragedy to the stunned audience at a commission meeting. Condolences -- from Gov. Rick Scott, police union boss John Rivera, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski and others -- poured in.
Loftus, a longtime Miami-Dade cop and first-year director, fought back tears as he explained that he hoped to serve out his tenure without attending another police funeral.
``The fact of the matter is, our worst nightmare was visited upon us again,'' he said.
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