updated 10/8/2010 7:39:39 PM ET 2010-10-08T23:39:39

The Mexican government said Friday it has opened a federal investigation into the reported shooting of an American tourist on a border lake plagued by Mexican pirates and strongly denied accusations it has delayed action on finding the man or his attackers.

A statement from Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs "categorically rejects claims to the effect that Mexican authorities are not doing enough to find" David Hartley.

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Hartley's wife, Tiffany, says she and her husband were riding Jet Skis back from Mexico on Sept. 30 when they were attacked by Mexican pirates in speedboats who opened fire and shot David Hartley in the back of the head. He fell into the water. Tiffany Hartley has said she tried to rescue him but fled to the U.S. side of the lake as the pirates continued shooting.

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Falcon Lake is a dammed section of the Rio Grande, 25 miles long and 3 miles across. Pirates have robbed boaters and fisherman on the Mexican side, prompting warnings by Texas state officials, but Hartley's death would mark the first violent fatality on the lake.

The foreign ministry's statement said the federal attorney general's office has opened an investigation based on Tiffany Hartley's testimony to Mexican consulate officials in McAllen, Texas.

Hundreds of people, including the Mexican army, federal police and state and local authorities, using speedboats, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles have been searching since last week, authorities said.

Search intensifies
Ruben Rios, a spokesman for the state prosecutor's office in Tamaulipas, said the search continues during daylight hours, but is suspended at night because of winds and waves. U.S. authorities said the search also has been hampered by threats from drug gangs.

That part of Tamaulipas state is overrun by violence from a turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zeta drug gang, made up of former Mexican special forces soldiers, and both are battling the Mexican military.

"The search will continue for several days," Rios said. "The search for this person will be intensified."

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar on Thursday told reporters Mexican authorities were doing everything they could while trying to keep their own crews safe.

"When darkness was falling (Wednesday evening), they got word that there might be an ambush," Cuellar said. "People that are trying to do their job on the Mexican side are facing a risk, they're right inside the hornets' nest ... they had to suspend the search."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, campaigning for re-election in Houston, said such threats were no excuse.

"I don't think we're doing enough. When you call off the search the way they did ... and give as the reason because the drug cartels are in control of that part of the state, something's not right," Perry said. "We do not need to let our border continue to deteriorate from the standpoint of having drug cartels telling whether or not we can go in and bring the body of an American citizen who was killed. That is irresponsible."

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Jesus de la Garza, Tamaulipas state deputy attorney general, said late Thursday that Mexican authorities had increased their efforts under orders from Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez, whose office was contacted by a member of Perry's staff. Divers also were deployed, de la Garza said.

The lake appeared calm Thursday afternoon. From the border markers in the water, the only sign of activity on the Mexican side was a single helicopter, which appeared to be a Mexican military aircraft, flying overhead.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said he has sent word to the Zetas that he wants Hartley's body returned and has no plans to prosecute.

"We cannot arrest anybody for what happened in Mexico, we cannot prosecute on the state level anybody for what happened in Mexico. We just want a body," Gonzalez said. "I did send word to the drug cartel, the Zeta cartel in Mexico, I sent word to them unofficially. I can't tell you how but I sent word to them."

Gonzalez said he had not received a response as of Thursday afternoon.


Associated Press writers Olga Rodriguez and E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City, Juan A. Lozano in Houston and Jeff Carlton in Dallas contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Texas sheriff to Mexico: We want a body

  1. Closed captioning of: Texas sheriff to Mexico: We want a body

    >>> there are new developments in the case of the american who was allegedly shot and killed by mexican pirates. authorities in texas have made a direct plea to a notorious plug cartel to return that man's body. janet shanlian has the latest.

    >> reporter: we're here at falcon lake where the search for david hartley 's body has been impacted, hampered by threats of an ambush by the drug cartels . in fact they had to suspend the search for a time yesterday. at the same time the sheriff in this county has reached out directly to the cartel insisting that there's going to be no penalty, no repercussion for the return of an american's body. this is the search on the mexican side of fall con lake for the body of david hardly. mexico says it has several boats in the water and as many as 60 officers working the case. a texas border sheriff is taking a different tack, calling on the drug cartel to return david home.

    >> we cannot let what happened in mexico , we cannot prosecute anybody for what happened in mexico , we just want a body. i did send word to the drug cartel in mexico , unofficially, i said, hey, work with us.

    >> tiffany hartley 's life jacket was stained with blood, stains she says she likely got when she tried to pull her husband on to her jet ski . she ultimately left him behind to safe her own life. the search in mexico was suspended for a time after reports of a possible ambush from the cartel.

    >> we have an american citizen who was gunned down on international waters .

    >> that riled texas governor rick perry who's been critical of mexico 's response.

    >> i'm not satisfied, when you call off a search the way they did this morning and give as the reason because the drug cartels are in control of that part of the state, something's not right.

    >> reporter: u.s. officials have taken tiffany hartley to a border crossing where she met with mention cxican authorities in charge of the search. and now for tiffany and everyone on this side of the border, there's little to do except watch, wait and hope that david is returned home. and tiffany hartley said she would consider taking a lie detector test if people continue to doubt her story. officials have not ask for one, at least not at this point.

    >>> it is 7:18 and now


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