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Latest FBI Death Recalls the First One

FBI seal

On April 5, FBI Special Agent Barry Lee Bush was killed in the line of duty. Thirty-four years earlier, FBI Special Agent Gregory Spinelli also died doing his job. Both deaths were shootings connected to bank robberies. Both special agents were IUP alumni.

In the ninety-nine-year history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, only fifty-one agents have been killed in the line of duty.

When the twenty-four-year-old Spinelli was shot and killed in a gun battle with a suspected bank robber in Charlotte, N.C., Bush was an IUP freshman from Pottstown, majoring in Criminology. Bush’s own death came in Readington, N.J., where he was conducting a criminal investigation into a series of armed bank robberies. At fifty-two, he had nearly twenty years with the bureau.

Spinelli grew up in Indiana, Pa. Although he originally expected to become a dentist, he graduated from IUP in 1970 with a degree in Biology and worked two years as a physical science technician in the FBI Laboratory. In 1972, he became a special agent with the FBI field office in Charlotte. He was killed a year later.

After he graduated from IUP in 1976, Bush went back to Pottstown and worked as a counselor, caseworker, and police officer in Pottstown and Boyertown. In August, 1987, he joined the FBI, serving first in Kansas City and transferring to Newark in 1991. He and his family settled near Easton, Pa.


Ruth Spinelli, foreground, with Spinelli award recipients David Thomas ’83, left, Bethany Williams ’07, and Leonard Mihalick ’74. Mihalick was the first IUP senior to receive the award thirty-three years ago. Photo: Keith Boyer

FBI Special Agent Bruce Contess ’79 served with Bush in Kansas City. “Barry was a hardworking, dedicated FBI special agent,” Contess said. “He jumped right in with complex organized crime cases. Along with his strong commitment to the work he did, his wife and children remained an important part of his life.

“Barry considered himself lucky when, after a few years in Kansas City, he was able to transfer to the Newark FBI office and live back in Pennsylvania.”

In the Newark Star-Ledger, reporter Brad Parks wrote that Bush’s job “led him all over the world, from Nairobi, Kenya, where al-Qaeda-linked terrorists blew up an embassy; back to Kenya and Tanzania, where he investigated terrorists who are now serving life in prison; to Jersey City, where he found documents connecting James C. Copp to the murder of a Buffalo abortion provider.”

Since the year after Spinelli’s death, the IUP Criminology Department has given the Gregory W. Spinelli Award to a graduating senior who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement. For many years, a participant in the award presentation has been Spinelli’s mother, Ruth, the widow of an IUP faculty member and the mother of two other IUP alumni (one of whom became an FBI agent after his brother’s death). Ruth Spinelli has also stayed in touch with many of the recipients. This year, all past award recipients were invited to attend a reception honoring the Spinelli family and to offer a letter or photograph for a scrapbook to be presented to Ruth Spinelli.

As Criminology faculty member Daniel Lee put it: “We wanted to recognize the Spinelli family’s longstanding, extraordinary involvement with the university and the department.”