The Question That Won't Die

A mild-mannered U.S. Customs inspector is shot to death. Police call it suicide. Friends and family say thatís inconceivable.

Though her request that Marrero-Colon evaluate her job performance was probably ironic (we'll never know -- customs officials denied New Times access to all employees), he was straightforward in recounting the exchange to police: "I told her I tolerate her way of being at the office. And I also told her that she was a team player. When the job has to get done that she will jump and do it without any hesitation, and that I really appreciate from her, or I like from her, versus the other shortcomings she has that I think should be brought to her attention."

Kennedy told police that Berkofsky and inspector Monte Grodin walked in during Marrero-Colon's discourse on her performance and were aghast. Berkofsky then asked Marrero-Colon to rate his performance, and Marrero-Colon told him he didn't do enough work to justify his salary. Berkofsky became uncharacteristically angry, cursing at Marrero-Colon.

Just then Diane Georges walked into this fracas and sat everyone down. She allowed each inspector a chance to speak, and Berkofsky blew up again, cursing once more at Marrero-Colon. Georges had to tell him to calm down. She also told Marrero-Colon to mind his own business and do his job. But Marrero-Colon wasn't through. He asked to meet privately with Georges, and told her "to take another hard look into the situation." She told him, again, to mind his own business and get back to work. He worked until noon and left for an appointment at the Veterans Administration Hospital, where, he told police, he was regularly treated for ailments related to Gulf War syndrome.

Sam Weber
Sam Weber

The next morning, January 7, began relatively smoothly. Casal and Marrero-Colon came in early for authorized overtime work and greeted each other without any unpleasantness or name-calling. The first sign of trouble came when Marrero-Colon emerged from the conference room and told Ruth Casal not to get too upset. (Though he noted to police he was in a state of shock, he apparently had the presence of mind to worry about the pregnant Casal.) He instructed her to call 911 and told her David Berkofsky had just shot himself in the conference room. Casal dialed the number but was too overwrought to speak, so Marrero-Colon asked the operator for help.

There is inconsistency in Marrero-Colon's account of the fatal gunshot as well. He told the first officer on the scene that Berkofsky put the gun in his mouth and shot himself, but in his second interview he said he didn't know where Berkofsky had shot himself or whether he was dead. However, he seems to have been certain when he talked to the 911 operator. He said: "There has been a shooting, he is dead, send rescue and police."

Euclid defined a point as "that which has no part." Aside from agitating philosophy undergrads into verbal conniptions, this definition has the specific (and accidental) virtue of summing up moments in time like the one that swallowed David Berkofsky. However detectives take apart and put together the puzzle pieces gleaned from their investigation -- the forensic evidence, the interviews with co-workers, the shocked exclamations of bereaved family -- Susan Berkofsky is left with a completely undefined moment in time. Before that moment her husband was alive; after it he was dead. There is no form or substance to the moment other than Marrero-Colon's statements to investigators, which even if taken at face value only lead to more questions. As a result she has considered every possible series of events, even the most unthinkable: "What if my husband had some kind of psychotic break and José has to carry that around with him?" She has reached only one conclusion. "I don't think my husband went into that room to kill himself," she says. "I don't think José went in there to kill him. But something happened in the room."

No one who worked with David Berkofsky at the Miami Free Zone now works in that office. Marrero-Colon was promoted and sent to Fort Lauderdale, considered a prized assignment by inspectors. "I still see him every once in a while, and I don't know what to think," says Scott Bober. Barbara Evans is less diplomatic: "If I had to partner up with him on the river or something, I would announce to everyone that I have no intention of committing suicide."

Eventually the Department of Labor officially designated David Berkofsky's death "work-related." While no consolation, it ensures Susan Berkofsky a slightly larger monthly check than the pension she'd been receiving. Today she says she's not interested in lawsuits against customs or the police. She just wants to know why no one seemed very interested in figuring out what happened to her husband: "We don't know what happened in that room. Whatever happened, it was a tragedy."

One Doctorís Doubts

Below is the complete report prepared by former Miami-Dade medical examiner Kathleen Enstice, titled ďDifference of Opinion in Regard to Classification of Pending Case.Ē

Rationale for classification: On the morning of January 7, 1999, U.S. Customs agent David Berkofsky was found dead in a conference room in the U.S. Customs Miami Free Zone office. I performed the autopsy, was present at the scene of the shooting, and actively participated in the investigation surrounding the incident.

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