By Derek Hawkins and Lindsey Bever, The Washington Post
Authorities are searching for witnesses and potential suspects after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed Sunday while on patrol in southwest Texas.
Officials with Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol said in a statement that Agent Rogelio Martinez and his partner were “responding to activity” near Interstate 10 in Van Horn, Tex., when both were seriously injured.
Martinez’s partner called for help, and other agents provided medical care and took them to a hospital.
Martinez, 36, died from his injuries, officials said. The El Paso native had been a border agent since August 2013.
His partner, who was not identified by authorities, remains in the hospital in serious condition, officials said.
(President Trump tweeted “We will, and must, build the Wall,” after the death in West Texas of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez, 36. Courtesy of ABC News and YouTube.)
Jeannette Harper of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s El Paso office, which is leading an investigation into the incident, told the San Antonio Express-News that authorities are still gathering evidence.
She said a full account of what happened would not be released until Monday, but said reports that the agents were shot were not true.
“They were not fired upon,” she told the newspaper.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to provide any further details about the incident.
But a National Border Patrol Council labor union official said Martinez may have been killed in a rock attack.
Art Del Cueto, the union’s vice president, said he has heard from other Border Patrol agents that Martinez and his partner were believed to be responding to an electronic sensor that had been activated.
Del Cueto said he was told that Martinez and his partner apparently did not suffer bullet or stab wounds — so he suspects the pair may have been attacked with rocks, which are commonly thrown at agents working in that area.
“It’s heartbreaking; it’s truly heartbreaking,” he told The Washington Post on Monday in a phone interview.
(Chris Cabrera, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, reacts to the death of a Border Patrol agent killed in the line of duty while on patrol near border with Mexico. Courtesy of Fox News and YouTube)
By Monday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction for what he called the “murder” of a Border Patrol agent.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to the brave men and women of the United States Border Patrol who serve every day to protect our homeland,” Abbott said in a statement.
“Cecilia and I offer our deepest condolences to the families of the agents killed and seriously injured in this attack.”
“As authorities continue their investigation, it is important that they receive any and all information to help apprehend and deliver swift justice to those responsible.”
Following news that an agent had been killed, President Trump appeared to connect Martinez’s death to border security and plugged his plans for a border wall on Twitter on Sunday night.
(Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies on President Trump’s renewed calls to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Courtesy of Fox Business and YouTube)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said on Twitter, without any further explanation, that Martinez and his partner were “attacked” and he also linked the incident to security on the border with Mexico.
“This is a stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses to the safety of our communities and those charged with defending them,” Cruz tweeted.
“I remain fully committed to working with the Border Patrol to provide them with all the resources they need to safeguard our nation.”
And Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) offered his condolences to Martinez’s family.
“I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Agent Rogelio Martinez killed in the line of duty yesterday in Texas,” he said in a statement.
“He served our country faithfully and will forever be remembered as a heroic officer. Angela and I are praying for his family and his colleagues as they mourn his loss.”
Carla Provost, acting chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, shared similar sentiments.
The FBI in El Paso is leading the investigation with help from the Culberson County Sheriff’s Department and Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
The acting secretary of homeland security, Elaine Duke, has promised her agency’s full support to “determine the cause of this tragic event.”
“On behalf of the quarter of a million front line officers and agents of DHS, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Agent Martinez and to the agent who is in serious condition,” she said in the statement.
After the incident Sunday, a longtime friend of Martinez told ABC affiliate KVIA that Martinez was “the type of guy to give the shirt off his back and wouldn’t ask for anything in response.”
“ … All he wanted to do was just help people and help the world and try to make a difference,” his friend, Emory Crawford, told the news station.
“He’s going to be missed by a lot of people,” he added. “I just wish him the best, that he rest in peace. I love him.”
The area where the two U.S. Border Patrol agents were harmed is a dusty stretch of highway about 100 miles east of El Paso.
It is part of Customs and Border Protection’s vast Big Bend Sector, which covers 135,000 square miles in Texas and Oklahoma and 510 miles of river border.
The sector’s Van Horn Station, near where Martinez died, covers 15 miles of the Mexico border.
The Big Bend Sector accounted for 1 percent of the roughly 61,000 apprehensions Border Patrol agents made along Texas’s southwest border between fall 2016 and spring 2017, according to the Associated Press.
Thirty-eight Customs and Border Protection agents have died in the line of duty since 2003, according to the agency’s memorial page.
Isaac Morales, who was stabbed in a bar parking lot in El Paso, was the only agent besides Martinez to die in 2017.
Three agents died in 2016; two of them in car accidents, one of a heart attack while on bike patrol.
Editor’s note: Our condolences to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol and National Border Patrol Council. Our thoughts and prayers are with Agent Martinez’s family. Your life matters Sir. May you rest in peace.