Investigators on horseback and all-terrain vehicles were searching the rugged desert 100 miles south of Tucson on Wednesday for clues in the fatal shooting of a Border Patrol agent as another officer wounded in the attack was released from the hospital, officials said.
Officers and agents from a variety of agencies including the FBI and the Cochise County sheriff’s office were combing the area around the border town of Naco, Ariz. Helicopters also filled the skies above the nearby Mule Mountains, a region considered a well-known smuggling area, officials said.
Nicholas Ivie, 30, a nearly five-year veteran of the Border Patrol , was fatally shot after he and two other agents responded to an unusual sensor reading near the sparsely populated border area.
The agent who was wounded during the attack has been released from the hospital, said Victor Brabble, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. The agent, who has not been named, received non-life threatening wounds in the shooting.
“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Brabble said, emphasizing the role of the law enforcement agencies like the FBI and sheriff’s office. “We’re cooperating with them and we will use whatever resources we can to get a positive result.”
The rugged, hilly area where the shooting took place is about five miles from the border with Mexico. It is laced with sensors designed to send a message to a dispatcher when some activity, such as a border crossing, takes place.
Three border agents were responding to one such alert about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when the gunfire erupted, Brabble said. Officials weren’t saying if the agents returned fire.
The third agent, who was not named, was uninjured, Brabble said. Ivie, a native of Provo, Utah, is survived by his wife and two young children.
“It's been a long day for us but it's been longer for no one more than a wife whose husband is not coming home. It's been longer for two children whose father is not coming home, and that is what is going to strengthen our resolve” to find those responsible and enforce the law, said Jeffrey Self, commander of Customs and Border Protection's Arizona joint field command, said at a Tuesday news conference.
President Obama called the family on Tuesday to offer condolences and to express his gratitude for Ivie's “selfless service to his nation,” according to a statement from the White House. The administration “was doing everything it could to locate those responsible,” according to the statement.
Republicans have seized on the border killing and the related issues of drugs and people smuggling as what they call example of a failed policy. The last Border Patrol agent killed on duty was Brian Terry, who died in a shootout with bandits in December 2010. The Border Patrol station in Naco was recently named after Terry.
Terry's shooting was later linked to the government's “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation, which allowed people suspected of illegally buying guns for others to walk away from gun shops with weapons, rather than be arrested. Authorities intended to track the guns into Mexico.