A longtime rancher was killed on his Douglas-area property over the weekend, and neighbors worried that his homicide was connected to increasing border-related crime in the area.
The Cochise County Sheriff's Office offered little information into the late-Saturday shooting death of 58-year-old Robert Krentz, whose family began the Krentz Ranch more than 100 years ago.
Krentz's body was found on his land, which is about 35 miles northeast of Douglas, just before midnight Saturday, said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.
The Sheriff's Office, aided by the U.S. Border Patrol, had no suspects Sunday and continued to follow leads, Capas said. She declined to comment on reports from neighbors and border activists that Krentz's death was related to smuggling in the area.
Area residents said Krentz had no enemies, and they could think of no motive for his death other than the possibility it was related to what they called the growing level of crime in the area related to illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.
Tom Tancredo, a former U.S. representative from Colorado, was visiting ranchers near Douglas to discuss border issues when he heard of Krentz's death.
Tancredo said he and Krentz were friends and that he was "a mild-mannered guy" who was known for providing illegal immigrants with food and water.
Tancredo and Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said Krentz phoned a family member Saturday afternoon to say he was out near his watering hole, providing one or more illegal immigrants with aid.
That's the last his family heard from him, Simcox and Tancredo said.
"He looked the other way so often," Tancredo said. "It's so ironic that he, of all people, got murdered."
If Krentz's killing was caused by an illegal immigrant or a drug smuggler, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Omar Candelaria said, it would be a first for the area, to his recollection.
"We haven't seen any instances of illegal immigrants or drug smugglers attacking U.S. citizens," Candelaria said.
Others who live nearby were unwilling to disclose their names when they spoke about the homicide Sunday because, they said, they were afraid of possible repercussions. A person at the Krentz home also declined to comment.
In a 1999 PBS interview, Robert Krentz and his wife, Susan, said illegal immigrants once stole property from their ranch, but that incident didn't stop him from aiding other trespassers.
"You know, we've personally been broke in once. And they took about $700 worth of stuff. And you know, if they come in and ask for water, I'll still give them water. I, you know, that's just my nature," Krentz was quoted as saying in written transcripts of the interview.
The longtime rancher's homicide already has caught U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' attention.
Sometime this week, the Arizona Democrat will travel to Douglas for a briefing on the homicide, said Giffords' spokesman, C.J. Karamargin.
"Rob Krentz was a pillar of the Cochise County ranching community," Giffords said in a press release. "He will be greatly missed."
The Krentz family's cattle ranch was inducted into the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame in 2008. The family started the ranch in 1907.