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Updated Oct 2, 2012, 2:11 pm Originally posted Oct 2, 2012, 9:12 am
A U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed and another wounded in a shooting Tuesday morning near Naco, the agency said. Border agents are searching the hills between Bisbee and Douglas for the gunman.
Nicholas Ivie, 30, was killed around 1:50 a.m. after he and two other agents responded to a sensor hit near mile marker 352 on State Route 80, the Border Patrol confirmed about 12:30 p.m.
At an afternoon news conference, FBI Special Agent in Charge James Turgal refused to release specifics on the case; he declined to comment on reports that two suspects in the shooting have been detained in Mexico.
"I'm not going to talk about any issues regarding suspects at this time," Turgal told reporters at 2 p.m.
The wounded BP agent, who has not yet been identified, was airlifted to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. He underwent surgery and was in stable condition Tuesday morning. The agent was expected to be released from University of Arizona Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon, said George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing border agents.
The slain agent was identified as Nicholas J. Ivie, a native of Provo, Utah. Ivie joined the Border Patrol in January 2008. Ivie is survived by a wife and two children, agents said.
"Tucson Sector mourns the loss of one of our own. It stands as a reminder of the dangers that agents of CBP face every day. We appreciate our state, local, federal and international partners for their support and commitment in seeking justice in this tragedy," said Acting Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla in a news release confirming Ivie's death.
The shooting is under investigation by the FBI and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, said FBI spokeswoman Jennifer Giannola.
Law enforcement agents were combing the area using helicopters and horses on Tuesday morning.
No suspects are in custody, Border Patrol spokesman Brent Cagen said before noon.
"There's still an ongoing search in the area," McCubbin said in the afternoon. While he didn't know if there was a single suspect or a group, "typically they're not by themselves," the BP union president said.
Two suspects in the shooting may have been detained in Mexico, according to Cochise County Chief Deputy Rod Rothrock, tweeted Fronteras Desk reporter Michel Marizco.
Turgal wouldn't confirm or deny that report, and Rothrock didn't take questions at the press conference.
Turgal said evidence teams would likely take several "a day or two" to process the crime scene. He would not comment on whether weapons had been found at the scene, or whether the agents fired their weapons.
Turgal repeatedly deflected reporters' questions by admonishing them, "You need to stay on message here."
"This is about the sad loss of life of a Border Patrol agent last night," he said.
The shooting occurred about 7 miles east of Bisbee on SR 80. Three agents were investigating a movement sensor that was triggered, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Carol Capas earlier in the day. The third agent was uninjured in the incident.
"#CBP mourns the loss of a Border Patrol agent who was killed in the line of duty early this morning near Naco, Ariz., Customs and Border Protection tweeted Tuesday.
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The commander of CBP's Joint Field Command – Arizona, Jeffrey Self, said that although it had been a long day for agents since they got word of the shooting around 2 a.m., "it has been longer for no one more than a wife whose husband is not coming home, it has been longer for no one more than two children whose father is not coming home."
Agents worked at station named for Brian Terry
The agents who were shot worked out of the Naco BP station, which was recently renamed in honor of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent who was killed in a 2010 shootout with bandits just north of Nogales. Weapons found at the scene of Terry's death were linked to the controversial Fast and Furious gun-smuggling probe.
In a statement, the Terry family called Tuesday's shooting a "stark reminder of the armed criminals who roam the border."
Calling the shooting a "powerful reminder that our borders are far from secure," U.S. Rep. Ron Barber said it was "especially tragic" that the agents worked at the station named for Terry.
"I was honored to help dedicate the station in Brian Terry’s name two weeks ago and today I am deeply pained that we now mourn the death of another agent from that same station," Barber said in a press release.
Barber's Southern Arizona colleague, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, said his "My first thoughts are with the families of the two agents attacked last night and the grief they’re feeling today. Every act of violence against the brave men and women who serve this country is a loss for their relatives and loved ones, and for all of us."
"This crime cannot, and will not, pass without a swift and appropriate response," Grijalva said in an emailed statement. "As that investigation goes forward, I encourage everyone to refrain from exploiting today’s tragedy for their own purposes. Using the death of an American as an occasion for divisive political rhetoric is not timely, humane or appropriate."
Also referencing Terry in a statement, fervent Fast and Furious critic U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said, "This shooting is a tragic reminder of the dangers the brave men and women who guard our borders face every day."
"Authorities must investigate the full circumstances of this shooting. I urge everyone to think of the families of these agents and avoid drawing conclusions before relevant facts are known," Issa said in a statement.
Gov. Jan Brewer blasted the federal government in a statement on the shooting.
"What happens next has become all-too-familiar in Arizona. Flags will be lowered in honor of the slain agent. Elected officials will vow to find those responsible. Arizonans and Americans will grieve, and they should. But this ought not only be a day of tears. There should be anger, too. Righteous anger – at the kind of evil that causes sorrow this deep, and at the federal failure and political stalemate that has left our border unsecured and our Border Patrol in harm's way. Four fallen agents in less than two years is the result," Brewer said in a press release.
"It has been 558 days since the Obama administration declared the security of the U.S.-Mexico border 'better now than it has ever been.' I'll remember that statement today," she said.
U.S. Sen. John McCain said, "While the investigation is still in its early stages, today's events are a tragic reminder of the threats that Border Patrol agents face every day in the line of duty. Our thoughts and prayers are with these agents, their families, and all those in the Border Patrol community."
Estrada: Good relationship with Mexican authorities
Sheriff Tony Estrada of neighboring Santa Cruz County said, 'There's obviously very little you can do to eliminate all these possibilities (of shootings). You can reduce them, you can try to make it as secure with as much resources and technology as you can, but being a nation where we consume over 50 percent of the worlds drug's and where people come from extreme poverty looking for work, the United States is a magnet for these things."
Drug cartels will "do anything to move that product and that contraband and meet that demand and sometimes they'll stop at nothing," Estrada said.
Estrada said that Mexican authorities are cooperative when an law enforcement officer is attacked.
Of the suspects, "it's difficult to come up with these people, and a lot of these things obviously happen close to the border so they're able to scramble back unfortunately," Estrada said.
"The relationship with the Mexican authorities has always been good, especially with Border Patrol and them, so they respond on the Mexican side pretty rapidly to something like this, especially when shots are fired, especially when there's an agent or law enforcement that's down," Estrada said.
"Hopefully collectively they'll be able to put this together and come up with somebody if they haven't already," he said.
Ivie is the first agent killed on duty in the Tucson Sector since Terry's death, and the 11th since 1926.
TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.