Retired FBI special agent & Carmel Resident Jay Abbott Talks 30-year Career
Writer: Jon Shoulders
Photographer: Ron Wise
When Carmel resident Jay Abbott looks back on his 30-plus years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he considers the time spent as more than a mere profession. From day one back in 1987, all the way until his retirement in January of this year, he’s considered the work his life’s true calling.
Before he even finished school, Abbott had found that calling. Well, technically the calling came to him, at least initially – during his first year at the University of Puget Sound School of Law, FBI representatives arrived on campus for a recruiting visit, and something immediately clicked into place for the Washington State native.
“It was like a lightbulb went off – I had found my calling and knew it was what I wanted to do,” Abbott says. “After that, I planned to go right to Quantico when I graduated.”
And that’s precisely what happened. Abbott was slated to take the bar examination in July of 1987 after finishing his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, but fate decreed otherwise. An FBI official called to say the Bureau had a spot for him starting in June, and Abbott promptly canceled his test-taking plans and headed east.
After working for several years at the FBI’s Washington, D.C., field office in foreign counterintelligence and international terrorism matters through the late 1980s and early 1990s, Abbott was hand-picked to be part of the FBI’s first Cold Case Homicide Task Force, and not long after being assigned he was involved in an incident that he says prompted a desire to take a leadership role within the Bureau.
Shortly after Abbott left his office at D.C. police headquarters on November 22, 1994, an individual entered the office and killed two of his fellow special agents and a sergeant, and gravely wounded a fourth agent. Abbott was the first person on the scene to sort out the aftermath and says the incident left him determined to find roles that would enable him to take the lead in preventing such tragedies.
“It was a very formative time in my career,” says Abbott, who also served on the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team while working in D.C. “I determined I wanted to go into leadership to better protect those agents that I worked with.”
Six months later, Abbott became the lead agent on a case involving a murderer who had begun stalking and killing police officers in the D.C. area. The perpetrator was eventually tracked down by Abbott’s team and died during pursuit, and the case was later featured on the Discovery Channel’s “The FBI Files.”
After D.C. came a five-year stretch from 2000 to 2005 as one of the FBI’s legal attachés to the American Embassy in Paris, France, during which Abbott was integral to the now-famous case of Richard Reid, who attempted to detonate an explosive device hidden in his shoe on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in 2001.
“My father and mother were visiting us in Paris, and they flew in the exact same day that Richard Reid was flying out to Miami,” Abbott recalls. “My father still holds me responsible to this day for having to take his shoes off every time he goes through airport security. I tell him it’s not my fault.”
Professional duties next brought Abbott and his wife to El Paso, Texas, in 2005, where he supervised a Public Corruption Squad and presided over the largest local public corruption case the FBI had at the time. After a brief subsequent stint in Seattle, he transitioned to Indiana, where he served as special agent in charge (SAC) at FBI’s Indianapolis division until mandatory retirement kicked in at the end of January.
Abbott could have chosen from any number of cities to settle in after retiring, having experienced many areas of the U.S. and overseas, but fell in love with Carmel and became the first Indiana-based SAC in 20 years to work until mandatory retirement and stay in the Hoosier state.
“I love it here,” he says. “It sounds hokey, but that Hoosier hospitality really got into our blood. I’m a huge cyclist and I’ve done a lot of triathlons. This place is incredible for a cyclist. We love the Monon Trail.”
Abbott is also a member of the Carmel Rotary Club and looks forward to getting involved in additional community service organizations in post-retirement.
For all the stress, danger and grief that came with his three decades as an FBI special agent, Abbott says switching careers, or seeking out less perilous assignments, never once crossed his mind throughout the journey.
“There was never any doubt – it had become my calling,” he says. “One of the neatest things about being a special agent with the FBI is that the job satisfaction is incredible. The reason is because of our mission, and we all swear an oath to it. Our mission is to protect the American people while upholding the Constitution. It sounds idealistic, but I love idealism. That calling, and working with people who truly believe the same thing, is very gratifying.”