A shoot-out between US border patrol agents and bandits in the rugged canyons near Mexico’s border left one officer dead and a suspect injured.
It was the latest outburst of violence along the busiest smuggling corridor into the US
The killing in south-east Arizona was a stark reminder of the complicated nature of border security. It was Brian A Terry’s job to turn back illegal border crossers, but he was apparently killed by bandits who prey on those same migrants.
“This is a sign that the politicians and bureaucrats are overly optimistic in their assessment that the borders are more secure now than at any point in our history,” said TJ Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 17,000 agents. Mr Terry, 40, was part of a team of officers whose job was to drop into hotspots and quell the violence.
The shooting took place about 13 miles north of the border, near Nogales, at the bottom of a flat canyon with scattered oak trees and knee-high grass. Rugged trails through mountains make the spot difficult to reach. Mr Terry was waiting with three other agents when a gun battle with bandits began, Mr Bonner said.
The agents came across a group of five people. There was no sign that they were hauling drugs, but two were carrying rifles, said Border Patrol Agent Brandon Judd, president of the local agents’ union. Mr Judd said he did not know what prompted the firefight. No other agents were injured, but one of the suspects was wounded. Mr Bonner said the wounded suspect was from Mexico, but the country of origin of the remaining suspects has not been publicly released.
The Border Patrol and the FBI have refused to confirm the details of Mr Bonner’s account, beyond saying that authorities have four suspects in custody and are searching for a fifth. Bandits have operated at the border for decades, robbing and sexually assaulting illegal immigrants crossing into the country.
The bandits stake out heavily travelled smuggling paths used by illegal immigrants and sneak up on them, pointing guns, forcing border-crossers to the ground and stealing all their valuables. Bandits, however, avoid run-ins with drug smugglers.
Mr Terry, a former Marine and Michigan police officer, was part of an elite squad similar to a police SWAT team that was sent to the remote areas north of Nogales known for border banditry, drug smuggling and violence.
“His dream all his life was to be a federal agent,” Mr Terry’s sister, Michelle Terry-Balogh, said. “It was always, ‘I want to be a cop, I want to get the bad guys’.”