A U.S. Border Patrol agent died Wednesday after he was shot in a gun battle with heavily armed suspects awaiting a drug load north of the Arizona-Mexico border, officials said.
FBI sources told KVOA-TV News 4 that Brian A. Terry, 40, and three other agents confronted five bandits Tuesday night north of Nogales, near Rio Rico.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano both said the killnig was a reminder of the threats and dangers lurking along the border.
The agents were trying to catch bandits who target illegal immigrants, the leader of a union representing agents said Wednesday.
No other agents were injured, but one of the suspects was wounded in the shootout, said National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner.
The FBI and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office are investigating the shooting, officials said.
Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Eric Cantu and FBI spokeswoman Brenda Lee Nath declined to confirm Bonner's account, but said that authorities have four suspects in custody, including one in the hospital, and were searching for a fifth.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Terry family for their tragic loss,” said Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Alan Bersin, according to KVOA. “Our commitment to Agent Terry and his family is that we will do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for this despicable act.”
Brewer, in a statement carried by KVOA, said said the state was shocked and saddened by Terry's slaying and that "our prayers are with his family" and all agents and their families.
"Although we needed no reminder of the ever increasing dangers along our southern border, this tragedy serves as stark notice that the threats facing all who serve in protecting our state and nation are real, and are increasing on a daily basis," she said.
Napolitano, former Arizona governor, will travel to the state Thursday and Friday to meet with Border Patrol agents and staff in Nogales and Tucson, NBC News reported.
Napolitano extended condolences to Terry's family and said the federal state and local authorities will make sure "those responsible for this horrendous act are held responsible. We will leave no stone unturned as we seek justice for the perpetrators."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said he was deeply saddened by Terry's death.
"The federal government must do more to secure the border and prevent future tragedies," he said.
Terry is the third Border Patrol agent to be killed in the line of duty this year, the Customs and Border Protection agency says, KVOA said. Thirty-four agents have died in the line of duty in the last 15 years, according to agency figures reported by KVOA.
Terry had served in the military and was a Border Patrol agent for about three years. He died early Wednesday.
Terry was a native of Detroit, Mich., and is survived by his parents, a brother and two sisters.
Bandits have long roamed border areas, robbing and sexually assaulting illegal immigrants as they cross into the country.
Bonner, whose group represents 17,000 agents, said the fatal shooting shows that the border is still dangerous.
"This is a sign that the politicians and bureaucrats are overly optimistic in their assessment that the borders are more secure now than at any point in our history. It showed just the opposite," Bonner said.