by Tricia Whitehill
In March 2006, after four grueling months at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, I took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States as a Special Agent with the FBI. This was not a path I ever saw for myself, as my family had slated me to be a lawyer since childhood based on my argumentative nature. I was raised in Iowa City, Iowa, and attended St. Olaf College. After college I worked on Capitol Hill in Washington DC before returning to Minnesota to attend law school. I practiced law for eight years in Minneapolis before starting a late career with the FBI. I did not have law enforcement in my family and I am not particularly athletic, but I knew the FBI recruited agents with a wide variety of backgrounds including law and I was hopeful this career would align better with my Christian values and perhaps make a difference in the lives of others.
I am now two years from retirement and I never imagined the breadth of experience I would have working for the FBI. My first assignment was working Human Trafficking investigations in Los Angeles, CA. The first case I worked was the largest sex trafficking case ever prosecuted (at that time) with over a dozen victims from Guatemala who were as young as 14 years old when they were smuggled into the US to work in jewelry stores and restaurants only to be forced into prostitution. They were held against their will under threats of violence and witchcraft. During my investigation I traveled to Guatemala to interview the families of the victims. Seeing first hand their impoverished conditions widened my aperture to the indiscriminate disparities between my Western privilege and their third world lives.
Another squad I worked on was responsible for extra-territorial investigations of counterterrorism in Southeast Asia. In that role I spent time living in a shipping container on a small US military base in the Southern Philippines. I worked with sources and our military counterparts to combat terrorism in the region. While the conditions were challenging, working with the US military was one of the highlights of my career. While on that squad I also spent three months in Sri Lanka to investigate the ISIS-inspired suicide bombings at three churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday 2019 which resulted in the deaths of over 300 people including several Americans. My years spent inside decrepit Asian prisons interrogating terrorists were the experience of a lifetime, although my family was less enthusiastic.
Finally, after 15 years based out of Los Angeles, I was ready to get back to my Midwest roots. My pastor in LA chided me, “Sure, go back to the Midwest where everybody is a Christian and the parking spaces are big.” For the last three years I have been working criminal investigations in Rochester, MN where our small four-person office serves all of Southeast Minnesota. As I look back on my career, I see how God has used me to serve others and how this job is a natural fit for any Christian who seeks a challenging profession in obedience to God’s call to do good works for others. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10.
Tricia Whitehill is a former attorney, current FBI Special Agent who moved to Rochester from Los Angeles in 2020 to be closer to family and to finish out her career serving the people of Southeast Minnesota. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her brother and his family in Decorah, Iowa, playing Pickleball, volunteering with Family Services of Rochester, scuba diving and hiking.