US border agent kills rock-thrower in Nogales, Mexico

Authorities in Nogales, Sonora, remove the body of a man shot by U.S. Border Patrol agents on the U.S. side of the border.

Photo by César Barrón/Radio XENY

A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot across the border and killed a 16-year-old in Nogales, Sonora, on Wednesday night.

The agent fired after people on the Sonora side of the line started throwing rocks, the agency said.

The body of the victim, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, lay on the sidewalk across International Street in downtown Nogales, Sonora, a few blocks west of the DeConcini Port of Entry. He had received eight bullet wounds, El Imparcial newspaper reported, and the wall of an adjacent medical office was pocked with bullet impacts.

The incident began about 11:30 p.m., when agents saw people drop a drug load over the border fence, the Border Patrol said in a news release. They fled back into Mexico, then others on the Mexico side began pelting the agents with rocks.

Agents ordered them to stop, but they continued throwing rocks, the release said. That's when one agent stated firing.

The FBI is investigating the incident as an assault on a federal officer.

The mayor of Nogales, Sonora, Ramón Guzmán Muñoz, acknowledged that the victim and others in his city may have been committing a crime, but objected to the Border Patrol's response.

"Aside from the fact that this may have resulted from illicit act, the logical response isn't to take a human being's life," Guzmán Muñoz told El Imparcial in Spanish.

"I hope they don't say this was legitimate self-defense."

The spokesman for the Mexican Embassy expressed concerns about the shooting.

"Preliminary information at this time brings forth, once again, serious doubts about the use of lethal force by U.S. Border Patrol agents, something that both the Mexican government and Mexican society strongly deplores and condemns," Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said in the statement.

"It is imperative that the relevant U.S. authorities proceed with a timely and transparent investigation," Alday added. "Mexican authorities will proceed accordingly within their jurisdiction."

Agents are allowed to fire their weapons when they are threatened with deadly force, said Sean Chapman, the attorney for the agent who fired into Mexico.

It can include rock throwing, he said. The agent has not been publicly identified.

Rodríguez was born in Nogales, Sonora, and lived in Colonia Fundo Legal, a district close to the border fence, according to the state attorney's office in Sonora.

The case is being handled by detectives of Sonora's state police. Mexican authorities said they were working closely with the U.S. Justice Department.

Wednesday night's killing by a Border Patrol guard is the latest of four deadly shootings since January 2010 in Southern Arizona.

Ramses Barrón Torres, 17, was killed on Jan. 5, 2011, as he was trying to cross the border fence in Nogales, according to Mexican authorities.

The FBI said border agents were trying to catch drug smugglers when a group of people started throwing rocks at them and agents responded with gunfire.

A year before Torres' death, Border Patrol agent Miguel Torres-Vasquez shot and killed Jorge Alfredo Solís Palma, 28, near Douglas. Palma, who had a prior felony drug offense, threw rocks at border agents and fled after struggling with agents who had been tracking him and other undocumented crossers.

The Cochise County Attorney's Office concluded after a two-month investigation that Torres-Vasquez was legally justified in the shooting.

In March 2011, Border Patrol agent Lucas Tidwell shot Carlos La Madrid three times, twice in the back and once in the back of his thigh, as he climbed a ladder on the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Douglas, according to suit filed by his mother. La Madrid, a U.S. citizen, was allegedly transporting marijuana and was fleeing Douglas police officers in a Chevrolet Avalanche when he made his way to a border fence.

Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene when La Madrid jumped out of the Avalanche and tried to climb a ladder next to the fence into Mexico. He was shot.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or at