But the ATF was clear: Permit the purchases and follow the weapons. Then the guns, like most of the 2,000 illegal sales permitted under the program, disappeared.
On Dec. 14, Terry and his intelligence team came upon a group of at least three men near Rio Rico, Ariz. Described as a "rip-off crew," the group allegedly preyed on undocumented workers. A gunfight ensued. Terry was shot once in the lower back, and died.
One of the assailants, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was wounded and arrested. He and the two other men, not publicly identified, were later charged in the slaying. Three weapons were recovered.
Within 24 hours, the ATF sensed trouble. Hurley emailed Burke that this was "part of the overall Fast and Furious conspiracy." In Arizona, Avila was quickly arrested on charges of buying the guns. William D. Newell, then the top ATF official in Phoenix, ordered an inventory of how many guns had been traced or recovered.
Then on Dec. 21, Newell emailed his boss and admitted that "guns purchased early on in the case couldn't have [been] stopped mainly because we weren't fully aware of all the players at that time and people buying multiple firearms in Arizona is a very common thing."
But Newell defended the operation. "I don't like the perception that we allowed guns to 'walk,'" he wrote.