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BP agent says he shot Mexican man 'unknown number of times' during fatal struggle

Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, 32, was killed when hit by 'multiple' bullets last Saturday

A Border Patrol agent fired his weapon an "unknown number of times" when he shot and killed a 32-year-old man last Saturday in a remote part of Southeastern Arizona, according to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. The migrant threatened the agent with a rock, officials said.

Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, from Puebla, Mexico, was killed by the agent, said Carol Capas, a CCSO spokeswoman. Cruz-Marcos died from "multiple gunshot wounds," the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office said.

The agent, who has not been named, told investigators that when he attempted to apprehend the man, a suspected migrant in the country without permission, the agent was hit multiple times during a struggle. The agent fired his weapon as Cruz-Marcos picked up a "large rock" and made a "throwing motion," Capas said the agent told investigators.

The incident's details echo other shootings that have occurred in Southern Arizona, when Border Patrol agents told investigators they were responding to the potential of a thrown rock when they fired their weapon in self-defense. Since 2010, Border Patrol agents have killed 58 people in shootings along the nation's borders, and in several of those cases, agents have said that they responded with force after people threw or moved to throw rocks.

According to details released Thursday by CCSO and U.S. Customs and Border Protection—Border Patrol's parent agency—the agent was working as a member of a BP horse patrol with a partner, and the two were responding to sensors tripped by a group of about 16 people attempting to skirt through the rugged Peloncillo Mountains, about 30 miles northeast of Douglas, Ariz.

Around 9 p.m., the agents dismounted from their horses because of the rough terrain, and spotted a group of people who immediately scattered, CBP officials said.

One BP agent chased two men uphill, while the other agent chased a man downhill. The agents were able to apprehend the men, and then spotted a fourth man under a tree. That man, Cruz-Marcos, broke into a run, attempted to escape by "running downhill into a canyon," CBP said, and the agent chased him.  Both the agent and Cruz-Marcos tripped and fell several times until the agent grabbed him, Capas wrote.

The agent told investigators that Cruz-Marcos turned and "struck him in the left shoulder" and his fist glanced the agent’s cheek. The agent tackled Cruz-Marcos, who went face down in a crouch with his hands under his body, and he refused to "changed his position," Capas wrote. "The scuffle reportedly continued" and the man "threw his elbow backwards into the agent" and managed to get up, she said.

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Cruz-Marcos, Capas wrote," then ran approximately six feet away before picking up a large rock and turning back towards the agent making a throwing motion with the hand that held the rock."

The agent told investigators that he "fired his weapon an unknown number of times as he was in fear for his life and safety," Capas wrote.

The Pima Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Tuesday that Cruz-Marcos died as a result of "multiple gunshot wounds." The office completed an autopsy, but has not yet released a full report from that examination.

The second agent ran to his partner, and found the man on the ground. The agents requested medical assistance, but determined that Cruz-Marcos was dead. As they waited, additional agents, including members of Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma, and Rescue Team and a Border Patrol paramedic, arrived at the scene, CBP said. While searching the surrounding area, Border Patrol agents apprehended two additional undocumented migrants who were part of the same group, the agency said.

By 10 p.m., Border Patrol officials alerted the Cochise County Sheriff's Office to the incident, officials said.

The remoteness of the scene may have contributed to some confusion about the incident's details, including the shooting's location.

Capas said Border Patrol officials initially reported that a man was seriously injured in the rugged mountains near Skeleton Canyon, and that several other people, suspected of being in the U.S. without authorization, had been detained by agents. Noting that the "investigation is in the preliminary stage," CCSO initially stated that "early indications are that one male subject, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, was fatally wounded by a Border Patrol agent," but later edited that post on social media, removing that part of their account.

Largely a dirt trail that connects Douglas to ranches along the U.S.-Mexico border, Geronimo Trail begins near the Douglas airport and then runs east for about 15 miles along the border toward the Slaughter Ranch. There it heads northeast into the increasingly rugged Peloncillo Mountains, and toward the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Capas said that deputies and detectives with CCSO responded to the incident, but they delayed recovering the man's body until Sunday morning to "allow for the safety of detectives" and other law enforcement personnel. Along with CCSO, a helicopter from the Arizona Department of Public Safety was brought in to help officials access the rugged terrain, and "process the scene."

The man's body was airlifted from that location and later transported to the Pima County Medical Examiner as part of the investigation, she said. PCOME conducts autopsies in Cochise County cases under a contract.

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Capas said Sunday evening that CCSO deputies had "just cleared the scene," and the investigation is ongoing. Officials contacted the Mexican Consulate about the incident, and were working to identify the man who was killed, and notify his next of kin, she said.

Along with CCSO, the incident will be reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General with the Department of Homeland Security and CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility.

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Border wall construction near Guadalupe Canyon, just along the U.S.-Mexico border in June 2021.

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