Naco, Ariz. • A Border Patrol agent who grew up in Provo was shot to death Tuesday in Arizona near the U.S.-Mexico border, the first fatal shooting of an agent since a 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits.
The agent, Nicholas Ivie, 30, and a colleague were on foot, responding to a sensor hit in the desert near Naco, Ariz., when shooting broke out shortly before 2 a.m., the Border Patrol said. The second agent was shot in the ankle and buttocks, and was expected to be released from the hospital sometime Tuesday.
Naco is about seven miles east of Bisbee. The area near the shooting is scattered with houses, trailers and ranchettes. The U.S. government has put thousands of sensors along the border that, when tripped, alert dispatchers that they should send agents to a particular location.
Authorities have not identified the agent who was wounded, nor did they say whether any weapons were seized at the site of the shooting. It is not known whether the agents returned fire, said Carol Capas, spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident with the FBI.
No arrests have been made, but authorities suspect more than one person fired at the agents.
“It’s been a long day for us but it’s been longer for no one more than a wife whose husband is not coming home. It’s been longer for two children whose father is not coming home, and that is what is going to strengthen our resolve” to find those responsible and enforce the law, said Jeffrey Self, commander of Customs and Border Protection’s Arizona joint field command.
The Border Patrol said Ivie worked for the agency since January 2008.
“He loved the outdoors, and that’s kind of what took him into becoming a Border Patrol agent,” said Marlee Forsberg, a friend of the family who got to know them through their LDS Church in Arizona. Forsberg’s daughter and Ivie’s 4-year-old daughter also go to preschool together. He also leaves behind a daughter who is 20 months old.
He was also a “very diligent, loving man” who was a hero to many and loved his family more than anyone, Forsberg said.
Ivie worked as an emergency medical technician before joining the Border Patrol, said his brother-in-law Todd Davis. Ivie was the youngest of five children, and often went camping, hunting and fishing with his family, Davis said.
Ivie’s desire to help others, and his love of the outdoors and riding horses led him to the Border Patrol, where he served on the horse patrol unit, Davis said.
“Nick always tried to help others. He was a very selfless man with his family, with his friends, in anything he did,” Davis said. “You know the risk but you pray this day would never happen.”
Jarrett Hamilton of Sierra Vista, a friend of Ivie’s, told the Arizona Republic that the slain agent was one of two counselors under the bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sierra Vista. He said he spoke to Ivie at 6 p.m. Monday.
“I lost a friend last night, and his children won’t have a father,” Hamilton said. “My wife and I are saddened … and deeply frustrated at the failed border policies of our country.”
Twenty-six Border Patrol agents have died in the line of duty since 2002. According to Victor L. Brabble, spokesman for U.S. Customs’ Southwest Border Joint Information Center, three agents have been killed this year.
Beth Kempshall, state director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a counter-narcotics entity, told the Republic that the shootout occurred in “a traditional smuggling corridor for the Sinaloa Cartel.”
The region has seen its share of violence in recent years. The last Border Patrol agent fatally shot on duty was Brian Terry, who died in a shootout with bandits near the border in December 2010. The Border Patrol station in Naco, where the two agents shot Tuesday were stationed, was recently named after Terry.
Terry’s shooting was later linked to the government’s “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation, which allowed people suspected of illegally buying guns for others to walk away from gun shops with weapons, rather than be arrested.
Authorities intended to track the guns into Mexico. Two rifles found at the scene of Terry’s shooting were bought by a member of the gun-smuggling ring being investigated.
Critics of the operation say any shooting along the border now will raise the specter those illegal weapons are still being used in border violence.
Bisbee-area residents expressed a mix of concern and frustration about the shooting, along with recognition that the border can be a dangerous place.
“There is no security on the border — none,” said Edward L. Thomas, who owns rental properties in Bisbee.