Peg Bowden’s Back and Telling It Like It Is on the Arizona Border. Bad News, Folks. Really Bad.

By on October 23, 2013

Basta! Enough!

by Peg Bowden for Arroya.org

1 Year Ago, an Unexplained Shooting on the Arizona Border Brought Outrage From Concerned Citizens Everywhere.  Nothing has Been Solved, But Peg Bowden Gives Her Report on the Progress of the Case

•October 18, 2013 • 7 Comments

It has been one year since the death of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez, the 16 year old teenager shot and killed on Calle Internacional by one or more Border Patrol agents on the night of October 10, 2012. On this somber first anniversary, Oct. 10, 2013, the drum beats echoed across Ambos Nogales (both Nogaleses) as a Mexican/Aztec dance group in full feathered headdress and costume summoned the people to the wall for reflection and remembrance. The beat of the drums was primal and hypnotic, and incense filled the air.

Basta!  Enough!

Basta!  Enough!

Across the wall on the Mexican side, a second group gathered, first at the killing site, and then at a point on the border fence where both groups, the Americans and the Mexicans, could speak and touch and sing songs about this tragic event. Hands reached through the fence slats, as flickering candles and healing touch tried to lessen the pain of this senseless violence.

Aztec dancers drumming for justice

Aztec dancers drumming for justice

José Antonio was walking home one year ago when an alleged drug-smuggling and rock throwing incident occurred a few blocks away. At least one Border Patrol agent aimed a gun through the border fence slats and shot him several times in the back.  Reports vary.  Some say there were eight bullets in his body:  one in the arm, two in the head, and five in the back.  The agent claimed to be shooting in self-defense, stating that the teen posed a deadly threat and was throwing rocks over the wall.

Surveillance cameras have recorded the incident, and presently the video footage is in the hands of the FBI, who refuse to release the film. No charges have been filed.

Surveillance camera near killing site

Surveillance camera near killing site     Photo:  Marty Ethington

On the 10th day of each month this past year, family and community members meet at the site where José Antonio died. They talk and weep and remember this young man. A small shrine has been erected on the sidewalk where he fell after being shot in the back and neck. A forensic report states that José was face down on the sidewalk when five of the bullets shot him in the back. Most of the bullets entered from behind at an angle suggesting he was prone on the sidewalk during the barrage of shots to his back.

Jose Antonio's family at sidewalk shrine

Jose Antonio’s family at sidewalk shrine

Fourteen shell casings were found in the immediate area of the border wall on the U.S. side. There were no shell casings found on the Mexican side of the fence. Eleven casings were above the killing site, and three casings were located 28 feet away, suggesting that two agents may have fired bullets through the fence. A ballistics expert states that the bullets used were fired from a Heckler and Koch 2000P handgun, a standard issue Border Patrol sidearm.

On October 10, 2012, a witness, Isidro Alvarado, was walking 20 feet behind José Antonio when two other young men ran up beside him, veering off into a side street. Suddenly there was gunfire coming from two different directions on the U.S. side of the border wall. Alvarado saw José Antonio fall to the ground in front of him. He took cover on a side street, called the equivalent of 911 in Mexico, and reported the shooting. The witness reports he did not see José Antonio throw any rocks.

The family—his mother, aunt, nephew, grandmother—speak fondly of José. He loved chocolate. He had a great sense of humor and liked to tease his nephew.

Ariceli Rodriguez, mother of Jose Antonio, speaks through fence to Guadalupe Guerrero, another mother of U.S. citizen, Carlos Madrid--both shot by U.S. Border Patrol

Ariceli Rodriguez, mother of Jose Antonio, speaks through fence to Guadalupe Guerrero, another mother of U.S. citizen, Carlos Madrid.  Both boys were shot by U.S. Border Patrol.   Photo:  Murphy Woodhouse

During this first anniversary, there is passion and anger that the case remains open with no real progress. The Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc dancers shout, “What do we want?”

The crowd answers, “Justice!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

Posters and placards denouncing this act of violence bobbed and swayed on both sides of the fence. I wondered what our country’s response would be if a Mexican police authority shot an American teenager through the fence.

In the back.

A child in Mexico holds a candle for Jose

A child in Mexico holds a candle for Jose

I have visited the killing site several times with Samaritans. Two things become obvious when you observe the place where the shooting took place:

First, there are no rocks. For three or four blocks up and down Calle Internacional, a street which parallels the border wall, there are no rocks in evidence. In fact it would be difficult to pick up a clod of dirt.

Secondly, the wall, which is 18 feet tall, sits on an embankment which is approximately 28 feet high. Lobbing a heavy rock on a dark night over 46 feet of embankment and fence, and taking aim at a person on the other side, would be very difficult. Maybe impossible. Especially if a Border Patrol agent was standing next to the wall taking aim with a semi-automatic weapon.

Procession beside the wall

Procession beside the wall

There are bullet holes sprayed across the building facade where José was walking that fateful night. Whoever fired the shots was shooting blindly at the building.  The shots which were fatal to the teen, however, were specific.

José Antonio was caught in the crossfire of an incident that went terribly wrong.

Memorial candles for Jose Antonio

Memorial candles for Jose Antonio

 

A few weeks ago I attended an educational tour of the Nogales Border Patrol Station, along with a small group of local citizens.  Several agents (five total) gave a professional and detailed picture of the various activities and procedures of the Nogales office, the busiest station of all eight Sectors in Arizona. Our citizen group had strong opinions and biases, and the discussion was often lively and intense.  The officers handled controversial questions with competence and experience.

Samaritans Nancy and Ted at the wall

Samaritans Nancy and Ted at the wall

There was one exception: when the questions centered on the death of José Antonio, the discussion was halted abruptly.  The Border Patrol agents stated flatly that the case was “out of their hands,” and the FBI was now in charge of this incident. Training in use-of-force policy was outlined for our group, and the agents emphasized that they never “shoot blindly.” Always they “aim for body mass.” (a chilling concept) That is, the shooter aims for the torso of the victim and never sprays bullets randomly.

The agents were unable to answer questions about the spray of bullet holes across the building, or the five shots in the back of José Antonio. There were no answers about the lack of rocks at the killing site, and the difficulty in lobbing a rock over such a high embankment.  One agent suggested that we did not understand the strength and athleticism of the young Mexican youth, and stated that it was possible to throw a rock with deadly force over the wall at the killing site.

Ricardo Osburn and the bullet holes

Ricardo Osburn and the bullet holes

The people of Ambos Nogales will not let this situation fade. The issue of border violence is too close. There have been twenty deaths since 2010 caused by Border Patrol agents; 17 cases remain open and unsolved. The FBI, the Border Patrol, and the Department of Homeland Security have not released information or the names of the agents involved in these cases.

Candles and prayers for Jose Antonio

Candles and prayers for Jose Antonio

During the tour of the Nogales Border Patrol office, our group observed the large amounts of data and video footage from numerous surveillance cameras positioned along the border. On one of the screens, the building and killing site of José Antonio is focused.   Somewhere in an FBI file is a video tape of José Antonio walking along Calle Internacional on October 10, 2012.

Therein lies the answer to this tragedy.

Pablo sings his song for Jose Antonio

Pablo Peregrina  sings his song for Jose Antonio at the vigil

References for this posting:

“Questions Linger Over Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez’ Death,” Bob Ortega, The Arizona Republic, Oct. 10, 2013.

“Frustration Mounts Over Unsolved Border Patrol Shootings,” Ted Robbins, NPR News, April 11, 2013.

“The Killings of Ramses Barron Torres and Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez:  Background and Resources,” No More Deaths website:  nomoredeaths.org/nomasmatanzas

 

The Green Valley Samaritans is a non-profit organization whose mission is to save lives in the southern Arizona desert.  Their website is:  www,gvsamaritans.org

The Santa Cruz Community Foundation is a non-profit organization focusing on the economic, cultural and philanthropic needs of southern Arizona and the borderlands.  Bob Phillips, Director, can be reached at:  rtp9@earthlink.net

Kino Border Initiative directs the activities of the comedor in Nogales, Mexico.  The mission is to help create a humane, just system of immigration between the United States and Mexico.   Their website is:  www.kinoborderinitiative.org

I endorse the activities of all of these organizations.

Peg Bowden can be reached at pegbowden@yahoo.com    Please direct comments to my email.   I will post your comments on the blog as they come in.  I love your input, so don’t hesitate to respond.  –Peg

 

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