A preliminary investigation has found friendly fire was likely to blame in a shooting that killed one federal agent and wounded another along the Arizona-Mexico border, the FBI said, shaking up the probe into an incident that reignited the political debate over border security.
“There are strong preliminary indications that the death of US Border Patrol agent Nicholas Ivie and the injury to a second agent was the result of an accidental shooting incident involving only the agents,” FBI special agent in charge James Turgal Jr said in a statement on Friday.
Turgal did not elaborate on the agency’s conclusions, but said the FBI is using “all necessary investigative, forensic and analytical resources” as it investigates the Tuesday shooting about 8km north of the border near Bisbee.
Ivie was killed after he and two other agents responded to an alarm triggered by a sensor aimed at detecting smugglers and others entering the US illegally.
The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which is assisting the FBI in the probe, said federal investigators used ballistic testing to determine the shootings likely were the result of so-called friendly fire among the agents.
Jeffrey Self, commander of Customs and Border Protection’s Joint Field Command-Arizona, said the initial findings that the shootings appeared to be accidental did not diminish the fact that Ivie “gave the ultimate sacrifice and died serving his country.”
While federal authorities declined to offer details of the shooting, George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the three agents split up as they investigated the sensor alarm, noting they all fired their weapons.
“Coming in from different angles, that is more than likely how it ended up happening,” McCubbin said of the shootings.
A Mexican law enforcement official said on Thursday that federal police had arrested two men who may have been connected to the shootings.
The official said it was unclear if there was strong evidence linking the men to the case.