HOUSTON – Border Patrol officials have identified the agent shot and killed Tuesday during a patrol south of Tucson as Nicholas Ivie, an almost five-year veteran of the agency.
Ivie, 30, was killed after he and two other agents responded to an unusual sensor reading near Highway 80 about seven miles east of Bisbee, Border Patrol officials said in a statement.
“Tucson Sector mourns the loss of one of our own. It stands as a reminder of the dangers that agents of (Customs and Border Protection) 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.
Another Border Patrol agent was also shot; he was taken to a hospital and was in stable condition Tuesday afternoon with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the statement.
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with Agent Ivie’s family during this terrible time,” said Border Patrol Joint Field Commander Jeffrey D. Self. “This is a tragic loss for Customs and Border Protection. We have an unwavering commitment to pursue and bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice.”
Ivie was a native of Provo, Utah, and joined Border Patrol in January 2008, according to the statement. A Facebook page that appears to belong to Ivie shows a man with a woman and two small children.
The FBI and Cochise County Sheriff’s Office were still investigating the circumstances of the shooting.
Ivie was patrolling the area with a pair of agents after being alerted that a sensor had been tripped, according to Cochise County Sheriff’s Commander Marc Denney.
Denney told the Los Angeles Times that agents were ambushed. The agents radioed that they had come under fire, he said, attacked by three or four people who appear to have fled on foot into the rocky hills.
It was not clear whether the agents returned fire, and Border Patrol spokesmen declined to provide more details about the shooting.
By the time deputies responded, the gunmen had disappeared, Denney said.
“Whether they were picked up in another vehicle is unknown,” Denney said, adding that the gunmen had ample time to flee and hide. “They had a bit of a jump on us.”
Denney said the motive for the shooting was still “highly unknown.”
“We’ve worked that area pretty significantly over the years,” he said of the shooting site, a known smuggling area for both drugs and, to a lesser extent, people.
“You never know what you’re going to run across out there,” Denney said. “It’s a very rough area _ it’s mountainous, rocky, loose rock, low vegetation. It’s hard terrain to maneuver around. There’s not a lot of trail systems in place. You’re just trying to work your way around and not turn an ankle.”
The last Border Patrol agent fatally shot on duty was Brian Terry, 40, who died in a shootout near the Arizona border town of Rio Rico in December 2010. The Border Patrol station in Naco, Ariz. _ where the agents shot Tuesday were stationed _ was recently named after Terry.
Terry’s family released a statement to the Times on Tuesday calling the latest shooting “a tragic reminder of the dangers faced by the brave men and women who patrol our borders and keep our nation safe. It is also a graphic reminder of the inherent dangers that threaten the safety of those who live and work near the border.”
Two guns used in Terry’s shooting were later linked to the government’s Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation, and some members of Congress were already questioning Tuesday whether this latest shooting might be linked as well.
“I’m sure that, if there is any kind of connection, that will come out,” Denney said, noting that any firearms recovered from the scene would be traced and any possible Fast and Furious connections investigated.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who authored a critical report on Fast and Furious, called Tuesday’s shooting “a tragic reminder of the dangers the brave men and women who guard our borders face every day.”
But he cautioned: “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.”
Border security has been a concern in Cochise County, population 137,000, where 65 deputies patrol 6,215 square miles, including 83 miles of border.
“We’re shorthanded as is Border Patrol and every other law enforcement entity along the border,” Denney said.
Denney urged border residents to remain vigilant.
“There’s long periods of time when no violence takes effect and people become complacent along our borders,” Denney said. “People need to be cautious. Our efforts will be stepped up as best we can _ this is a big border.”
Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican and outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s approach to border security, released a statement Tuesday noting that Ivie and Terry were not the only Border Patrol agents killed on duty in Arizona. Agents Eduardo Rojas Jr. and Hector Clark were killed in a crash while pursuing suspected drug smugglers near Gila Bend in May 2011, she pointed out.
“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,” Brewer said.
“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.”
Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat, has represented the Cochise County area since June; he was elected to replace his former boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, injured in the 2011 Tucson shooting rampage that also wounded Barber. On Tuesday, Barber also called for stepped-up security in the area.
“We need to redouble our efforts to secure the border and ensure the safety of Border Patrol agents,” Barber said. “We cannot cede one foot of American soil to these cross-border bandits. And we must never forget that the men and women of the Border Patrol are on the front lines defending our country.”
Agents rely on scores of remote sensors like the one tripped Tuesday to alert them to illicit activity. The sensors are usually magnetic or seismic, designed to detect people or vehicles, according to a Border Patrol spokeswoman who asked not to be identified. She said agents often respond to several sensor alerts a day, which are radioed to them by dispatchers.
“That’s our daily bread,” the spokeswoman said. “You don’t know what it is until you check it out.”
Sometimes, cameras are stationed near the sensors and can alert agents to false alarms, such as animals or ranchers, she said. The Border Patrol would not say whether a camera was near the sensor that alerted agents ahead of Tuesday’s shooting.