Border agents opened fire on each other

This undated photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows slain Border Patrol agent Nicolas Ivie. The fatal shooting of Ivie and the wounding another U.S. Border Patrol agent near the Arizona-Mexico border may have been a case of friendly fire, a union chief for border agents and law enforcement officials said Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. (AP Photo – U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

BOB CHRISTIE
From Associated Press
October 07, 2012 7:14 PM EDT

PHOENIX (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol agent killed last week in a shooting in southern Arizona apparently opened fire on two fellow agents thinking they were armed smugglers and was killed when they returned fire, the head of the Border Patrol agents’ union said Sunday.

The two sets of agents approached an area where a sensor had been activated early Tuesday from different directions early Tuesday and encountered each other in an area of heavy brush, National Border Patrol Council president George McCubbin said.

Agent Nicholas Ivie apparently opened fire first and wounded one of the other agents but was killed in the return fire.

“I don’t know what it was he saw or heard that triggered this whole event,” McCubbin said. “Unfortunately it resulted in his death and another agent injured.”

Acting Cochise County Sheriff Rod Rothrock confirmed the scenario but would not say if Ivie was the first to shoot, saying that was up to the federal agencies involved.

The new details add to a FBI statement Friday that the shooting appeared to be a friendly fire incident that involved no one but the agents.

Sensors are set up in different areas along the U.S.-Mexico border to detect smugglers or illegal immigrants, with Border Patrol agents responding when they’re set off. The shooting occurred in a rugged hilly area about five miles north of the border near Bisbee, Ariz., an area known for illegal trafficking.

McCubbin and Rothrock both said the two sets of agents knew the others were heading to the area on foot but apparently didn’t know they were so close. McCubbin said he’d been briefed by the agency, while Rothrock’s agency has been involved with the investigation.

“It was dark, very, very rugged terrain, and what they could see of each other was further obscured by the fact that there was brush and cacti and stuff like that between them,” Rothrock said. “I have no doubt that these agents were in as heightened a state of alert as you can get due to the proximity to the border and the history of trafficking in that area.”

Rothrock said that when the agents spotted each other in the dark, “they apparently took defensive postures, which was probably interpreted as aggressive postures. Like readying your weapons, for example.”

Ivie, 30, died at the scene, and one of the other agents was wounded but has since been released from the hospital.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the Border Patrol and other federal and local agencies flooded the area with personnel looking for who they believed were assailants who had attacked the agents.

“That was the initial reports from the beginning,” McCubbin said. “That was the reason for the saturation manhunt there. They even had permission to fly into Mexico. They were seeking people out. What this was based on, we’d have to assume it was based on the initial statements given by the agents on the scene.”

Two people suspected of being involved in the shooting were arrested by the Mexican government but were apparently not involved at all.

“They had a couple of people in custody but other than being in the area, there was no evidence putting them there at the scene,” McCubbin said. “They could have been guides, they could have been scouts, and those type of folks typically go back and forth all the time anyway.”

Rothrock said he believed the agents’ actions were “appropriate and in accordance with their training had they, in fact, been engaging people involved in illegal activities. Unfortunately, they weren’t engaging people involved in illegal activities, they were engaging each other.”

Rothrock said a death investigation report will be sent to the Cochise County Attorney’s Office for review as a matter of routine, but he doubted any legal action will be taken against the surviving agents.

Family members of Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie participate in Thursday Oct. 4, 2012 candlelight ceremony in Naco, Arizona. Nearly 100 people gathered in Naco for a candlelight vigil for a fallen Border Patrol agent. Ivie and two other border agents were fired upon Tuesday in a rugged hilly area about five miles (eight kilometers) north of the border near Bisbee, Ariz., as they responded to an alarm that was triggered on one of the sensors that the government has installed along the border. (AP Photo – Beatrice Richardson, Sierra Vista Herald)

by The Associated Press

PHOENIX October 6, 2012, 01:05 pm ET

PHOENIX (AP) — Friendly fire likely was to blame in a shooting near the Arizona-Mexico line that killed one federal agent and wounded another, the FBI said, noting the investigation was still ongoing in the case that reignited the political debate over border security.

“There are strong preliminary indications that the death of United States Border Patrol Agent Nicholas J. Ivie and the injury to a second agent was the result of an accidental shooting incident involving only the agents,” FBI Special Agent in Charge James L. Turgal Jr. said in a statement Friday.

Turgal said the FBI is using “all necessary investigative, forensic and analytical resources” as it investigates the Tuesday shooting about five miles north of the border near Bisbee.

Ivie, 30, was killed after he and two other agents responded to an alarm triggered by a sensor aimed at detecting smugglers and others entering the U.S. illegally. Another agent was wounded, and released from a hospital after surgery; the third agent was uninjured.

Federal investigators used ballistic testing to determine that the shootings likely resulted from friendly fire, according to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which is assisting the FBI in the probe.

A spokesman for the Ivie family said how the agent died changes little.

“Quite honestly, the circumstances that surround exactly what happened will do nothing to bring Nick back,” Kevin Goates, Sierra Vista stake president for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told The Arizona Republic. “Those are just details.

“The fact is he is gone, and that is what the family is focusing on and their time together and their time for healing,” Goates said.

Ivie is survived by his wife, Christy, and two young daughters, plus his parents and siblings.

Jeffrey D. Self, commander of Customs and Border Protection’s Joint Field Command-Arizona, said that despite the initial findings that the shootings appeared accidental, Ivie still “gave the ultimate sacrifice and died serving his country.”

“The fact is the work of the Border Patrol is dangerous,” Self said at a news conference in Tucson.

While federal authorities declined to offer details of the shooting, George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said all three agents fired their weapons.

McCubbin told The Arizona Republic that the agents had split up as they investigated the sensor alarm.

“Coming in from different angles, that is more than likely how it ended up happening,” he said.

A Mexican law enforcement official said Thursday that federal police had arrested two men who may have been connected to the shootings. 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 case.

Mexican authorities didn’t respond to telephone messages Friday.

Ivie’s funeral is set for Monday in Sierra Vista.

The Border Patrol couldn’t immediately comment on the frequency of friendly fire shootings involving its agents. However, such incidents appear to be extremely rare, if they’ve ever occurred at all.

“I know of absolutely none in the past, and my past goes back to 1968,” Kent Lundgren, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers said, citing the year he joined the agency. “I’m not saying it never happened. I’m just saying I’ve never heard of it.”

Also Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to Arizona to express her condolences to Ivie’s family and meet with authorities.

Ivie’s death marked the first fatal shooting of an agent since a 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits that killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation.

The “Fast and Furious” operation allowed people suspected of illegally buying guns for others to walk away from gun shops with weapons, rather than be arrested. Authorities intended to track the guns into Mexico.

Two rifles found at the scene of Terry’s shooting were bought by a member of the gun-smuggling ring being investigated. Critics of the operation say any shooting along the border now will raise the specter that those illegal weapons are still being used.

Twenty-six Border Patrol agents have died in the line of duty since 2002.

___

Associated Press writers Pete Yost in Washington, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., and Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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