Desert Invasion - U.S.
Statement by Border Park Ranger John Malone on killing of Ranger Kris Eggle in Organ Pipe National Monument on August 9, 2002
Open Letter From Border Patrol Agent John Malone - Ajo Station
Yesterday, a federal officer lost his life on the border in AZ. I was working. I heard the radio caller announcing a "lookout" for a vehicle loaded with weapons that was going to be driven across the border. A little while later, while I was processing some aliens for "Voluntary Removal", I heard the Ajo Border Patrol Agent talk to the National Park Service Ranger about working some pedestrian activated sensor traffic several miles north of the International Border. The Ajo agent is fairly new. He has been here less than 2 years. The Park Ranger became permanent at Organ Pipe National Monument about 2 years ago. Before that, he was "seasonal".
Sometime after that, I heard that one of the helicopter pilots from our neighboring sector in Yuma (who provide Ajo agents with more air assistance than our own sector), involved in some activity near Lukeville. I began to realize that the Border Patrol Agent, the Park Ranger, and the pilot were all working the vehicle traffic near Lukeville and not the pedestrian traffic from the sensor activation's. It was a little hard to follow, but I didn't have a good feeling about how it was going to develop.
As I have told many of you before, the Ajo station is actually in Why, some 30 miles north of the border. Lukeville is the Port of Entry (POE) at the terminus of (AZ) State Route 85 on the border with Mexico. In this area, there is a road that parallels the border "fence" both east and west of the POE. It is one of the very few dirt "roads" in the area. The objective of the alien and dope smugglers is to get to the highway. Once there, the next step is to blend in with traffic and avoid the "temporary" checkpoint set up 5 or so miles south of the station in Why. As some of you have seen, the area is sparsely vegetated and consists of rocky hills and small mountains. These small mountains and the valleys and washes cause radio signal strength to be weak or non-existent in some areas.
Sorry for the digression. As best I could tell, the situation was getting distorted. The pilot was trying to direct the agents to the vehicle and occupants (at some point it must have stopped). He identified at least 2 bad guys and that at least one of them had a "long arm" (rifle). There were Mexican officials south of the illegal vehicle. I know this because the pilot used them as a reference point to guide the agents. The pilot's radio transmissions were very distorted with static and helicopter whine so it was difficult to understand what he as saying some times. I don't remember if I heard any of the agents on the ground use the radio. I do remember that our sector dispatch was calling out sensor activation's (usually normal radio traffic) and there was some other non-related radio traffic on the same frequency. At one point, an agent not involved in the incident asked for all radio traffic to cease except for those involved in the incident. This started a dialogue between that agent and the dispatch that lasted a minute or two.
At some point (around 12:30 PM), I loaded my illegal aliens for their return trip south and was starting to leave the station when I heard the pilot say, "officer down". I made a conscious decision to continue what I started in the vehicle I was in. I figured it would take too long to unload my aliens, lock them in a cell, try and find another "law enforcement" vehicle, and start south. I drove way faster than I should have in the vehicle (an unmarked '97 Ford Van with almost 200,000 miles on it) and with my passengers. I arrived at the POE about 20 minutes later and discharged my passengers and tried to assist. On the way down, I was passed by at least 5 other BP units running code (lights and siren). About 5 or 6 miles north of the POE, I passed the Border Patrol Agent driving the shot Park Ranger north to rendezvous with an ambulance. By then, 5 or 6 law enforcement vehicles were coming off of the border road.
I turned around to look for some way to help. When I arrived at the back of the POE, I saw the shot Park Ranger's fellow Ranger, and several other officers I didn't know, performing lifesaving measures on the wounded bad guy. I saw that I was not needed there and drove north to assist with traffic control near the air evacuation site. The first person I saw when I arrived where the ambulance was stopped (12 miles north) was the Ajo Border Patrol Agent who was with the Park Ranger the whole time. He was positioned with a Customs Special Agent where he could direct traffic on the 2 lane road. The look on his face was pure emotional anguish. I parked my van and set out to do what I could.
I could see in the ambulance that at least 2 paramedics (EMT's?) were working on the Ranger. There was also someone else inside. There were at least 2 more BP Agents a few yards north of the ambulance. I talked to the BP agent that was with the Park Ranger. He was distraught. He wanted reassurance that he had done all that he could. I listened to him and reassured him that he did. After spending some time with him, I walked towards the ambulance. I shouted through the open ambulance doors at the Park Ranger and told him to "hang on". I didn't want to be a strap hanger; I just wanted to offer some encouragement. I went back to the BP Agent and tried to help.
I don't remember what time I arrived at the scene of the ambulance. I know that we radioed to have both north and southbound traffic stopped. I know that one agent called our dispatch on several occasions to ask about the ETA of the air evac. More than once, he asked to confirm that there was more than one helicopter enroute and that they were going to 2 different locations. At least one of the calls was inquiring about the ETA after the previous ETA had passed. At some point I noticed that one of the people in the ambulance was another Park Ranger that I knew; his name is Bo. Near the end, he exited the ambulance and walked away from it and in my general direction. I walked to him, hugged him and tried to say something encouraging. He commented that he thought it was too late. A little while later, the helicopter finally landed. It flew up from the south, the direction of the POE.
Bo and I walked over to the ambulance so that we would be ready to help load up the shot Ranger. We were there when it was decided that the helicopter wasn't going to take him. We were there when the doctor on the other end of the ambulance frequency called the time of death (2:40 PM). I watched as Lonnie (the EMS director and OIC at the scene) and Bo cried. It seemed like it was just the three of us. They both talked to and stroked the dead Ranger. I put my hand on Bo's back and held it there until he was through with his initial moment of grief. I watched them as they unhooked all of the IV's and monitors and removed the pressure suit(?)pants. I saw them cover him with a blanket. Yesterday, I saw my first dead person and it was someone I knew and someone that I worked with. I didn't stay there much longer. I took the BP Agent who was with the shot Ranger back down to the POE.
When we arrived, we saw that the bad guy was dead. The dead Ranger's buddy, who was trying to save the bad guys life, was sitting with quite a few law enforcement officers. As I looked around, I saw Customs and Immigration Inspectors (who work at the POE), Customs Special Agents, Border Patrol Agents, County Deputies, an Air Force K-9 handler temporarily detailed to the POE, and a couple of AZ DOT officers who also work at the POE. It didn't surprise me. While there may be some chest thumping and service rivalry, when one law enforcement officer needs help out here, there is no hesitation. We know that sometimes someone from another agency may be our only backup because our agency back up may be 30 miles away.
I want to tell you a little about the dead Ranger and how I knew him. I haven't used his name because I don't know that his parents know yet. I had the pleasure of meeting them and would hate to know that they found out by accidentally receiving this email instead of the proper way. It will be difficult enough even then.
I first met the Ranger a few years ago when he first showed up at Organ Pipe as a temporary seasonal Ranger. What I saw then, and what I remember most about him, was his smile. He always had one. I don't think that I ever saw him frown or talk negatively. The Ranger was young and eager like most new officers. However, he had been a seasonal temp for several years before that in other parks. He wanted to learn the job, he wanted to learn the area, and he wanted to catch dope smugglers.
Christmas came about 3 months after he got here. I remember that 2 other BP Agents and I were working swing shift (2PM - 12 AM) Christmas Eve or Christmas Day near the POE. Sometime during the shift, he came down and talked to us for awhile. The Ranger station and their housing area that he lived in is about 5 miles north of the POE. He told us that his family (Mom, Dad, and sister) was visiting him and he invited us up for Christmas dinner. Sometime during the night, we went up and met his family and ate dinner. We spent an hour or so visiting. He embodied the true spirit of Christmas. While we weren't strangers we weren't family either. I felt like family that night. His family welcomed us and shared their food. I hope I never forget that.
Over the last year or so, I didn't see him very much. My assignments had me working on other things and in other areas so I wasn't working often in Park. I would occasionally see him on or off duty and we would play catch up. He even joked about the fact that he had me over for Christmas dinner and then I hadn't been back. About 2 months ago, I ran into him one day and we spent a little time exchanging things that were going on in our lives. That was the last time I saw him until today.
I wrote this email for several reasons. I know it is long. I could probably spend an hour or so editing it; but I won't. I wrote from my perspective; not to talk about me or my actions but to use what I saw to describe the people and events. I wrote it to tell you what happened as I know it. I wrote it to tell you how one officer's death affected me. I wrote it to help me grieve. And, I wrote it to point out a few things that are wrong with this job and the approach that our management and government officials are taking with the border issues. A National Park Service Ranger died assisting a Border Patrol Agent with his job. We are undermanned, our technology (communications, vehicles, weapons, uniforms,etc.) is out dated and ineffective, our national border policies are too political, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals is out of touch with reality, the court dockets are so full that we can't prosecute those that need to be, and the smugglers are getting more aggressive. I have yet to see the results of the other shooting incident investigations. Our management never officially (through email) notified us of these events. How are we, the agents, supposed to learn from these situations? It's almost as if they didn't occur.
In the 5 years that I have been at this station, I don't recall a single incident where a Border Patrol Agent was shot at until a couple of months ago. That incident involved the Mexican military shooting at the vehicle of a Border patrol Agent who was doing his job on our side of the border. Since then, BP Agents were shot at twice in one week in 2 different incidents. Up until yesterday, those shootings took place on the Tohono O'dham Indian reservation, in some of our most remote area. Yesterday was the first incident I recall occurring near Lukeville. I may have forgotten one or two incidents because I am getting "sometimer's disease". The point I am making is that the trend of shooting incidents in our area has increased dramatically.
I did not write this letter to be a chain mail. However, I hope that you will pass it on as you see fit. There are roughly 9,000 Border Patrol Agents trying to protect our borders from the illegal entry of aliens, terrorists, and drugs. We have a very small voice in Congress and most people have no clue what we do, or under what conditions.
Take a moment to pray or offer your thoughts to the fallen Ranger. While you're at it, we would appreciate it if you said one for the rest of us.
Border Patrol Agent
Ajo Station, Tucson Sector, Western Region