A US Border Patrol agent was killed and another wounded in what investigators are describing as an ambush in rugged terrain along the Mexican border west of Naco, AZ. The shooting reportedly took place in the early morning hours of Tuesday as the agents were responding on horseback to a tripped sensor along the border fence.
The agents reported over the radio that they had come under fire as they were following a trail into the area, said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman with the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. Earlier reports said they were on horseback.The murdered Border Patrol agent has been identified as 30 year old Nicholas Ivie of Provo, UT. Ivie joined the Border Patrol in 2008 and family described him as a loving father and husband who grew up around horses and loved his job which involved patrolling remote and rugged terrain in south eastern Arizona on horseback. Ivie was also a Mormon and he learned Spanish during his two year mission to Mexico at the age of 19.
When deputies arrived, one of the agents had died and another suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries, she said. Cochise County Sheriff's Office sent every available deputy to the scene.
The wounded agent was flown to a hospital, according to Crystal Amarillas, a spokeswoman for the Tucson Sector Border Patrol.
On Tuesday, investigators patrolled a rugged area south of U.S. 80 on ATVs and trucks, and James Turgal Jr., FBI special agent in charge for Arizona, said at a Tuesday press conference that they would likely continue gathering evidence for two days.
The second agent, whose name hasn't been released, was treated and released by Wednesday after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds including to the ankle and buttocks.
The area in which the shootings took place has been described by local, state and federal law enforcement officials as a high-intensity drug trafficking and smuggling area owing to the rugged terrain and the distance from the Border Patrol stations in Naco and Douglas, AZ- creating a gap in effective coverage.
Lt. Floyd Gregory, who oversee the Cochise County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Unit, has pointed out that smugglers have gotten increasingly brazen and resourceful in recent years.
In the past, the area was a major route for illegal immigrants who left behind piles of discarded clothing, water jugs and other debris. But most of the illegal-immigrant traffic has dried up. What remains is the drug smuggling.In March 2010, Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz was gunned down on his property while checking fences and water lines.
They use the canyon to smuggle loads of marijuana from the border north to Arizona 80, where it is quickly loaded into vehicles and transported to stash houses in Douglas, Tucson or other communities, Gregory said.
Sometimes, the smugglers use pickup trucks or SUVs loaded with cellophane-wrapped bricks of marijuana to get to the highway. But more commonly, the marijuana bricks are stuffed inside homemade burlap backpacks and trekked north through the desert. The backpacks weigh anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds, he said. Sometimes one smuggler is designated to carry only food and water for the rest of the group, he said.
In the past, Gregory said these human smuggling "mules" traveled in groups with as many as 15 people. But more recently, law-enforcement officials are encountering smaller groups of two to four mules. That way, the groups are harder to detect and smuggling organizations can reduce their losses if the mules are caught
"We've had intel that the higher-ups have told their people to do whatever it takes: 'We are not going to lose a load at any cost,' " Gregory said.
In December 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed when his BORTAC [Border Patrol Tactical- the Border Patrol equivalent to a SWAT Team- NANESB!] unit was engaged in a firefight with what law enforcement describes as a "rip crew"- armed bandits who ambush and rob smugglers of their contraband. At least two guns from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms' ill-advised 'Fast And Furious' gunwalking program were recovered from the scene, where field agents were ordered to allow guns purchased on the US side of the border to cross unimpeded into Mexico, where they would surface at any number of crime scenes in Mexico. Operation Fast and Furious was carried out without any notification of Mexican authorities about the trafficked weapons. The death toll on the Mexican side of the border from Fast And Furious guns is thought to be in the hundreds and a recent Univision report has uncovered additional Fast and Furious weapons that were recovered by Mexican troops from the scene of a 2010 massacre of 16 teenagers at a birthday party in a residential area of Ciudad Juarez. This eventually led to a Congressional inquiry and impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder.
Last month, Mexico Federal police announced the arrest of one of the suspects in the shooting of Brian Terry- although any eventual extradition to face charges in the USA may be a thorny issue as Mexico will not extradite prisoners facing the death penalty in the United States. Ironically, the Border Patrol station in nearby Bisbee, AZ was renamed in honor of Agent Terry a few weeks before the murder of Agent Ivie.
On Thursday, reports were circulating that Mexican police had detained two suspects in the shooting of Agent Ivie.While its still early in the investigation, there exists the distinct possibility that Agent Ivie was also slain with a gun from Operation Fast & Furious.
Federal police have arrested two men who may be connected with the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent just north of the Mexico-Arizona border, a Mexican law enforcement official said Thursday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said it was unclear if there was strong evidence linking the men to the shooting of Agent Nicholas Ivie.
Brenda Nath, an FBI spokeswoman in Arizona, and Border Patrol officials in Arizona declined to comment on the detention of the two men in Mexico. The Cochise County sheriff's office, which is also investigating the shooting, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lydia Antonio, a spokeswoman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, confirmed the two detentions, but declined to say what prompted them and what made authorities suspect the two might be involved in the shooting.
Authorities have declined to provide key details about Tuesday's shooting, including what they believe prompted the shooting, whether the agents were ambushed and whether any guns from the shooting were recovered. Still, they suspect that more than one person fired on the agents.
The head of the Border Patrol agents union has said he believes those who carried out the shooting probably had time to escape in the early morning darkness before authorities could seal off the area and that he doubted that whoever shot the agents would still be hiding in the area.
This was not the first death involving a law enforcement officer from Southeastern Arizona in Recent weeks. On September 19, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Deever was killed when his pickup truck rolled over on this way to meet up with his son for a hunting trip outside of Williams, AZ.