Gunfire kills US agent in area where bandits prey

Border Patrol team battles group west of Rio Rico; 4 in custody
2010-12-16T00:00:00Z 2010-12-30T14:44:20Z Gunfire kills US agent in area where bandits preyBrady McCombs and Fernanda Echavarri Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A Border Patrol agent was shot and killed Tuesday night during a gunbattle with suspected bandits.

Four people, including one who suffered gunshot wounds, were taken into custody. Authorities were searching for a fifth suspect Wednesday, said Rick Barlow, deputy chief in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector.

Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, was killed when he and fellow agents exchanged fire with a group of five people about 11 p.m. Tuesday in a remote area west of Rio Rico, said FBI spokeswoman Brenda Nath.

Bandits were responsible for the killing, said agent Brandon Judd, president of the agents' union in Arizona, Local 2544. Bandits are criminals who try to rip off loads of drugs and people from smugglers.

Terry and his fellow agents were members of the agency's SWAT team, known as Bortac. They were in the area where the shooting occurred because of the high levels of illegal activity involving armed bandits, Judd said.

"It wasn't a surprise encounter," Judd said. "They knew what they were going into."

Border Patrol officials declined to confirm Judd's account or discuss any of the details of the incident because it is an ongoing investigation. However, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said an encounter between the tactical unit and bandits is possible in the area.

"The unit that was out there is a unit that specializes in those high-risk encounters," Estrada said. "And there has been bandit activity on and off there and it probably happens a lot more often than we know."

The shooting occurred in a remote area about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border near Forest Service Road 4197, west of Interstate 19, said Estrada. The area is frequently used by smugglers.

"All these canyons in Santa Cruz County are notorious for smuggling humans and drugs," Estrada said. "Obviously, it is a very dangerous situation for anyone patrolling those remote areas, particularly for the Border Patrol. There is always that threat."

His department was only serving in a support role, Estrada said. The FBI is handling the investigation.

Fifth suspect is hunted

The manhunt for the fifth suspected bandit lasted much of the day and involved officers on horseback and in helicopters scanning the canyons and hills surrounding the area northwest of Nogales.

Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputies found a man just before 2 p.m. on southbound Interstate 19 south of Rio Rico about 10 miles from the Mexico border that fit the description of the fifth suspect. He was turned over to the Border Patrol, but it didn't appear he was the man they were looking for.

Bandits are the lowest of the low among criminals operating along the border, despised even by the smuggling organizations, Judd said.

"This is the biggest scum that you are going to run up against," Judd said.

Barlow, the Tucson Sector deputy chief, said the shooting serves as a stark reminder of the dangerous reality agents face daily.

"There are people out there who wake up every day with nothing else on their mind but to do harm to the citizens of our country and our way of life," Barlow said.

A dedicated agent

Terry was strong-willed, very focused and "lived to protect his country," said his older sister, Michelle Terry-Balogh, by phone from her home in south Detroit.

Terry, who was born in Flat Rock, Mich., served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 1994. Afterward, he went to college and worked for two Michigan police departments before joining the Border Patrol in July 2007.

He is survived by his parents, two sisters and one brother, Terry-Balogh said. He was not married and did not have any children. He was set to come to Michigan on Friday for his first Christmas at home in years. Instead, his body will be coming home in a casket, she said.

"It has been devastating," she said. "It's more of a shock than anything. You just never think anything would happen to him."

As a child, he was very accident prone, earning the nickname "Stitches."

"Every time we turned around, Brian was getting stitches," she said.

But he became a big, muscular, athletic man who stood 6-foot-4 and sometimes worked out two to three times a day. His athleticism and skills earned him a spot in the Border Patrol's SWAT team.

"He was, by all accounts, an absolutely outstanding agent," Judd said. "He was everything you would want on this team."

Terry was well-liked by colleagues, said Judd, who worked with him in the Border Patrol in Naco. His sister echoed that, saying he had friends everywhere. They are expecting at least 1,000 people at his funeral in Michigan, she said.

Terry's goal was to become a Secret Service agent. He joined the Border Patrol to get in the door at the Department of Homeland Security and hoped to work his way up, Terry-Balogh said.

The third of four children, he was the rock of the family, she said.

"He always wanted for people to get along, no matter what was happening. He would always say, 'I've got your back,' " she said. "It's sad because he got shot in the back."

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com

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

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