TUCSON, Ariz. — A U.S. Border Patrol agent was fatally shot north of the Arizona-Mexico border while trying to catch bandits who target illegal immigrants, the leader of a union representing agents said Wednesday.
Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, was waiting with three other agents in a remote area north of Nogales late Tuesday night when a gun battle with the bandits began, said National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner. No other agents were injured, but one of the suspects was wounded in the shootout.
The FBI is investigating the shooting. 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 and are searching for a fifth.
Terry was part of an elite squad similar to a police SWAT team that was sent to a remote area north of Nogales known for border banditry, drug smuggling and violence, said Border Patrol Agent Brandon Judd, president of the local agents' union.
Bandits have long roamed border areas, robbing and sexually assaulting illegal immigrants as they cross into the country.
Terry and the other agents came across a group of five people. There was no sign that they were hauling drugs, but two were carrying rifles, said Judd, who didn't know what prompted the firefight.
"It is a stark reminder of the very real dangers our men and women on the front lines confront every day as they protect our communities and the American people," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She plans to be in Arizona on Thursday and Friday to meet with Border Patrol agents in Nogales and Tucson.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has railed against border violence and signed Arizona's new illegal-immigration law earlier this year, struck a similar tone.
"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," Brewer said.
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.
Terry served in the military and as a police officer in Michigan before joining the Border Patrol in 2007. He wasn't married and didn't have any children. He is survived by his mother, father and sister.
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The shooting occurred in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, the busiest gateway for illegal immigrants into the United States. Half of the marijuana seizures along the 1,969-mile southern border are made in the sector, which covers 262 miles of the boundary.