A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle along the fence at the Mexican border near Nogales,… (Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty…)
Two illegal immigrants were shot to death by camouflaged gunmen northwest of Tucson in an incident evoking a pair of 2007 attacks, Arizona authorities said Wednesday.
One of the victims was identified as Gerardo Perez-Ruiz, 39, of Toluca, Mexico. The second man remained unidentified but was thought to be from Guatemala.
They were among a group of 20 to 30 people riding in the bed of a Chevy truck on Sunday when men with rifles ambushed them, Pima County Sheriff's Deputy Dawn Barkman said in an interview. The area, near the town of Eloy, is known for immigrant-smuggling, she said.
Family members dragged Perez-Ruiz from the truck bed and tried to revive him, she said. The other man was dead in the truck.
Authorities are working with the Guatemalan Consulate to confirm his identity and contact his next of kin, Barkman said.
Most of the illegal immigrants fled, she said, but five were found hiding in the desert near the truck. They described the attackers to the Pima County Sheriff's Border Crimes Unit.
"We're looking at the motives and who the suspects could have been," Barkman said. "We're not going to speculate on any reasons for this crime at this time."
But she said the incident was similar to two attacks in 2007 that prompted the formation of the Border Crimes Unit.
On Feb. 8, 2007, three illegal immigrants were shot to death in the desert outside Tucson. No arrests have been made and the motive remains a mystery.
Nearly two months later, on March 30, 2007, two more illegal immigrants were ambushed and shot to death by men dressed in black. Those killings were the result of a foiled "drug rip," Barkman said, explaining that the attackers were looking for drugs but the vehicle was instead filled with smuggled immigrants.
Two Mexican men were arrested in that case, she said, and the third remains at large. They pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and were sentenced to 23 years in prison.
"They were looking out for people crossing with drugs, which is a common thing," she said. "It's one of the reasons why the [Border Crimes Unit] was formed, and they have been successful in reducing this type of activity."