Anger, questions in border shooting

Many in Nogales, Son., suspicious of how US agent shot, killed teen
2012-10-17T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T17:09:10Z Anger, questions in border shootingTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 17, 2012 12:00 am  • 

NOGALES, Sonora - To see why residents of this city remain angry about last week's killing of a local teen by a U.S border agent, you need to look at the scene from Jorge Gómez's perspective.

Gómez, a local retiree, visited the site on the sidewalk where 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez lay dead a week ago.

He pointed across the street and up at the 20-foot-high border fence, which stands on top of a tall rock face.

The Border Patrol agent, he pointed out, would have had to fire downward and across the street from a position at least 20 feet above the street in Mexico where the teen was shot. And to threaten the agents with rocks from that spot, Elena Rodriguez would have had to throw them across the street and about 40 feet high to clear the rock face and tall fence.

Gómez concluded what many do here: "I believe the crime (the agent) committed was here in Mexico. They should send him here to face justice."

The shooting occurred about 11 p.m. Oct. 10, after Border Patrol agents and Nogales, Ariz., police officers responded to a report of two people climbing the high border fence into the U.S. with packages strapped to their backs.

While the federal agencies involved in the case are close-mouthed about it, the two Nogales, Ariz., police officers wrote reports that have been released under a public-records request and offer the first detailed official account of the incident.

Police officers Quinardo Garcia and John Zuñiga confirmed one key claim the U.S. Border Patrol made in a written statement: After two men climbed onto the border fence heading back into Mexico, people south of the fence began throwing rocks at the officers on hand.

"I then heard several rocks start hitting the ground, and I looked up and I could see the rocks flying through the air," Zuñiga, a canine officer, wrote in his report. "I then ran for cover along with my canine to avoid being struck by the rocks."

An agent shouted, "Your canine's been hit!!" Zuñiga wrote. He found the dog had no injuries.

"I then heard several gunshots go off, and I saw an agent standing near the fence," Zuñiga wrote.

Garcia's report said he learned from agents that the male shot by Border Patrol had been throwing rocks. The Border Patrol's statement did not specifically identify the dead person as a rock thrower.

The name of the agent has not been released.

To shoot across the border, the agent would have had to stand next to the fence and fire through the 4-inch gaps between the fence poles. Shooting from farther back would mean risking the chance of ricocheting shots off the iron poles.

The fence stands on a rock face above the Mexican neighborhood. Along the fence on the Mexican side is a narrow ledge, then a drop-off that ranges as high as about 20 to 30 feet. Below the drop-off are parking places, Mexico's Calle Internacional, then a sidewalk.

On Sunday, about 200 people walked in a funeral march along those blocks, carrying Elena Rodríguez's casket and shouting angry slurs at agents on the U.S. side.

Agents defend the use of deadly force against rock throwers.

"Rocks can kill you. That's what it comes down to," said Art Del Cueto, president of National Border Patrol Council Local 2544, the Tucson Sector agents' union. "When you're getting rocked, and you don't know if you're going to make it home, it's a split-second decision."

The decision isn't necessarily affected by the fact the rocks may be thrown from Mexico, he said.

Elena Rodríguez was on his home turf when he was shot. He lived about three blocks south of where he was killed.

"This is his neighborhood," said his grandmother, Taide Elena, interviewed at the humble block home on a steep hillside where the teen lived.

Elena, who lives in Nogales, Ariz., didn't know why José Antonio was out that night, but she noted he was just three blocks from home and called him an "obedient boy" who aspired to be in the Mexican army.

The family has retained a Nogales, Ariz., attorney to represent them.

That's slim solace to residents like Gómez, the retiree.

"What infuriates me is that this is going to be forgotten," he said.

On StarNet: For more coverage on border-related issues go to azstarnet.com/border

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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