Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie, 30, was shot to death in southern Arizona… (U.S. Customs and Border…)
One Border Patrol agent was killed and another wounded early Tuesday while patrolling a troubled stretch of southern Arizona favored by Mexican drug cartels. The fatality was the agency's fourth in that area in the last two years.
Nicholas Ivie, 30, a nearly five-year veteran of the agency, was fatally shot after he and two other agents responded to an unusual sensor reading near the border town of Naco, Ariz., said officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The other agent who was shot was hospitalized in stable condition with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.
"It stands as a reminder of the dangers that agents ... 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.
Ivie, a native of Provo, Utah, who joined the Border Patrol in January 2008, was based in Bisbee, about 90 miles southeast of Tucson. He is survived by his wife and two small daughters, according to Border Patrol Joint Field Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Self.
"That is what's going to strengthen our resolve to bring these people to justice," Self said of the suspects in Ivie's killing.
Two suspects were detained by Mexican officials Tuesday in connection with the shooting, according to Cochise County, Ariz., Sheriff's Cmdr. Marc Denney.
However, a Mexican military spokesman said no arrests were made even though dozens of soldiers, federal and state police officers and investigators fanned out across the border area on foot and in vehicles.
The sheriff's office and the FBI are investigating. At the time of the shooting, the agents were responding to reports of a tripped ground sensor off Highway 80, Denney said.
The area is deep in a border smuggling corridor favored by Mexico's Sinaloa cartel that runs from Nogales, Ariz., to the New Mexico border, officials said.
Agents rely on remote sensors, usually magnetic or seismic, to alert them to illicit activity. The sensors are designed to detect people or vehicles, according to a Border Patrol spokeswoman who asked not to be identified, and agents often respond to several sensor alerts a day.
When the agents arrived, they were ambushed, Denney said. The agents radioed that they had come under fire from three or four people, he said, but by the time deputies responded, the gunmen had disappeared, apparently fleeing on foot into the rocky hills.
"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."
Cochise County Acting Sheriff Rod Rothrock said Border Patrol agents were immediately sent to the border to head off the suspects' escape to Mexico. It was unclear whether the tactic worked.
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 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."
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 Bisbee -- where the agents shot Tuesday were stationed -- was recently named after Terry.
Two guns used in Terry's shooting were later linked to the federal government's Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation, and some members of Congress were already questioning whether the latest shooting might be linked as well.
"I'm sure that, if there is any kind of connection, that will come out," Denney said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman who wrote 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."
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer noted that Ivie and Terry were not the only Border Patrol agents killed on duty in Arizona. Agents Eduardo Rojas Jr., 35, and Hector Clark, 39, were killed when their car was struck by a train while pursuing suspected drug smugglers in May 2011.
"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.
An Obama administration official defended the federal government's efforts to secure the border.
"The Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time" in its history, said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified. "Violent crime in border communities has remained flat or fallen in the past decade, and statistics have shown that some of the safest communities in America are along the border."
Times staff writer Brian Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.