NACO - U.S. Border Patrol Agent Nick Ivie usually got home from his overnight shift at about 4 a.m., but on Tuesday about that time other agents knocked on the door of his Sierra Vista home.
They came to tell Ivie's wife, Christy, Nick had died.
Ivie and two other agents responded early Tuesday morning to an area where a ground sensor had been tripped, about eight miles east of Bisbee and five miles north of the border. They were on foot in the hilly area when unknown gunmen opened fire.
Ivie, a 30-year-old father of two young girls, died of his wounds, another agent was wounded and the third agent was not hit. The wounded agent was in stable condition Tuesday after surgery at a Tucson hospital.
The agents were assigned to the Naco Border Patrol station, which was renamed in honor of slain agent Brian Terry just two weeks ago. Ivie's death put a new name on the dismaying list of victims of border violence.
"It just goes to show that whether you are an armed Border Patrol agent on duty or a simple rancher like Rob Krentz out working his ranch - if you're in border country you are in peril," said Rod Rothrock, acting sheriff of Cochise County.
Residents of the area midway between Naco and Douglas, about 100 miles southeast of Tucson, said the number of illegal immigrants has plummeted since 2008 when a fence across the border was completed and the economy tanked. The twist: Drug-smuggling traffic has remained about the same.
Indeed, the killing took place in an area that has been a drug-smuggling corridor for 30 to 40 years, said Lee Morgan II, who retired as a U.S. Customs Service special agent in 2006 after decades in the area.
"It's a historically bad area," said Morgan. "Over the years we've had numerous armed confrontations, shootings, pursuits."
Tripped sensors routine
The Border Patrol has buried sensors in many spots along border trails in Southern Arizona. Responding to a tripped sensor is a routine part of an agent's shift, said Art Del Cueto, president of the National Border Patrol Council local 2544 in Tucson.
Agents learn over time which sensors tend to signal illegal-immigrant groups, and which usually mean drug smugglers are moving through, Del Cueto said. But whenever they respond, they're in a heightened state of alertness.
The agents who responded early Tuesday radioed that they had come under fire from three or four people, Cochise County sheriff's Cmdr. Marc Denney told the Los Angeles Times. It is not known whether the agents returned fire, sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas told The Associated Press.
By the time deputies responded, the gunmen had disappeared, apparently on foot, Denney told the Times. "Whether they were picked up in another vehicle is unknown," he said. "They had a bit of a jump on us." Border agents were sent to try to cut off escape routes to Mexico.
Two suspects were detained by Mexican officials south of the border Tuesday, Denney told the L.A. Times. Rothrock, the acting sheriff, told the Star he had heard that but couldn't confirm it.
Rothrock's agency and the FBI are investigating the case jointly, but they declined to give any details of the shooting or investigation at a news conference Tuesday.
In Mexico, soldiers and federal and state police were sent to the area, but a spokesman for the Mexican military said no arrests were made, the Times reported.
President Obama called Ivie's family Tuesday to offer condolences and to express his gratitude for the agent's "selfless service to his nation," the White House said. Obama said the administration "was doing everything it could to locate those responsible."
"It's changed a lot" recently
Dan Oldfield's dogs started barking about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Oldfield, 66, has lived on property along Arizona 80 for 25 years, just southeast of the Bisbee-Douglas highway in the southeastern foothills of the Mule Mountains.
"I got up and there were three cop cars with automatic weapons in my driveway," Oldfield said.
The officers told him an agent had been killed, and helicopters began circling the area, swooping over the house all night, he said.
The late-night action in the area has calmed in recent years as the groups of illegal border-crossers dwindled, he and other residents said. Much of the change happened after 2008, when the fence was completed between Naco and Douglas, said rancher Fred Giacoletti. Yet he and others said the drug-smuggling traffic has not gone down.
Ironically, the potential for trouble seems higher, said Tony Coulson, who retired as the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Tucson office in 2010. "The drug smuggling has been historically very aggressive in that area," Coulson said, adding: "The nature of trafficking has so changed, in the sense of the violence and the shooting."
Yet some residents feel quite safe compared to border agents, whose job puts them in harm's way. "It's actually pretty quiet down here," said Cynthia Binyon, who lives east of Naco.
A dedicated dad and Mormon
Ivie was a loving husband and father who cherished spending time with his daughters, ages 3 and 1, said Kevin Goates, president of the Sierra Vista stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Originally from Provo, Utah, Ivie served his Mormon mission in Mexico City and became a border agent assigned to the Naco station in January 2008.
He was a dedicated member of the Mormon church, serving as second counselor to the bishop of his local congregation. In that role, he conducted meetings and spoke to the congregation on Sundays.
Ivie loved taking the girls to the park and riding bikes with them, Goates said. "His family life was the center of everything that he did," Goates said.
On Monday evening, Ivie spoke with Dr. Jarrett Hamilton about the tithe Hamilton's young son had offered at the previous day's service. Ivie wanted to be sure the boy got proper credit for it, Hamilton said. And before starting his shift on Monday night, Ivie went to his wife's soccer practice, Goates said. While the mothers were practicing, Ivie rounded up all the kids and played with them.
"We believe that families are eternal," Goates said. "So, they have the hope of being able to be with Nick again. That gives them tremendous hope and comfort."
You can help
A foundation has been established to help the Ivie family pay for its expenses. People can make donations to the Nicholas Ivie Memorial Fund at any branch of National Bank of Arizona.