Former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno died early Monday morning at the age of 78, following complications from Parkinson’s disease, her family said.
After serving 15 years as Dade County prosecutor, Reno was sworn in as attorney general under the Clinton administration. Not only was she the first female to serve in the high position, she was also one of the longest serving.
During her tenure from 1993 to 2001, she faced a number of high profile decisions, some of which earned her public scrutiny. But she was applauded for her blunt style and willingness to accept responsiblity.
Under Reno’s leadership, the Justice Department led a 51-day siege on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas, in 1993. Ending the standoff, agents led a raid on the compound that resulted in 76 people dead, including government agents, women and children.
In 1995, federal agents captured Timothy McVeigh for bombing an Oklahoma City federal building, which resulted in 168 people dead. McVeigh cited the tragedy in Waco and government overreach, especially of firearms, as part of his motivation for the terrorist act. McVeigh blamed Reno along with the federal government for the deaths at Waco.
A year later, in 1996, federal agents arrested Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, a mathematician with extreme political beliefs who mailed off homemade bombs to individuals involved in developing modern technology. Reno pushed, along with the FBI, to publish excerpts of Kaczynski’s manifesto, which ultimately led to his capture. Kaczynski’s family recognized ideas and language in the document and tipped off authorities.
Reno authorized the armed seizure of 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez from a relative’s home in Miami in 2000. The government stepped in to send the boy back to Cuba, but photos of the operation – which depicted heavily armed federal authorities grabbing him as he hid in a closet – quickly drew serious public scrutiny.
Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1995, two years after President Bill Clinton appointed her to his cabinet.
Daniel Terrill contributed to the reporting of this article