Family members of Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie participate in Thursday Oct. 4, 2012 candlelight ceremony in Naco, Arizona. Nearly 100 people gathered in Naco for a candlelight vigil for a fallen Border Patrol agent. Ivie and two other border agents were fired upon Tuesday in a rugged hilly area about five miles (eight kilometers) north of the border near Bisbee, Ariz., as they responded to an alarm that was triggered on one of the sensors that the government has installed along the border.
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Beatrice Richardson, Sierra Vista Herald)
Cmdr. Jeffrey Self, of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, flanked to his left by Acting Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla, releases a statement on Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, at the Tucson Sector Headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. A preliminary investigation has found friendly fire likely was to blame in a shooting that killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Nicholas J. Ivie and wounded another along the Arizona-Mexico border, the FBI said Friday, shaking up the probe into an incident that re-ignited the political debate over security on the border.
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Mike Christy)
Border Patrol Agents and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's security detail stand guard outside the Brian A. Terry Border Patrol Station outside in Bisbee, Ariz. on Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. A preliminary investigation has found friendly fire likely was to blame in the shootings of two border agents along the Arizona-Mexico border, the FBI said Friday.
Photo credit: (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Wallace)
Christy Ivie, center, wife of Nicolas Ivie, holds back tears as she is surrounded by her family, her father Tracy and mother DeAnn Morris, left, and her sister, Jan Cloward, right front, and brother, Travis Morris, right back, during news conference about slain U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Nicolas Ivie, on Thursday, Oct. 4 , 2012, at the Cochise College in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Ivie was gunned down Tuesday, Oct 2, as he responded to a tripped sensor on the USA side of the border fence, near the small border town of Naco, Ariz. Ivie''s partner was also hit in gunfire during the exchange, but was released from a Tucson hospital on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gary M. Williams)
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Gary M. Williams)
PHOENIX (AP) — Friendly fire likely was to blame in a shooting near the Arizona-Mexico line that killed one federal agent and wounded another, the FBI said, noting the investigation was still ongoing in the case that reignited the political debate over border security.
"There are strong preliminary indications that the death of United States Border Patrol Agent Nicholas J. Ivie and the injury to a second agent was the result of an accidental shooting incident involving only the agents," FBI Special Agent in Charge James L. Turgal Jr. said in a statement Friday.
Turgal said the FBI is using "all necessary investigative, forensic and analytical resources" as it investigates the Tuesday shooting about five miles north of the border near Bisbee.
Ivie was killed after he and two other agents responded to an alarm triggered by a sensor aimed at detecting smugglers and others entering the U.S. illegally. Another agent was wounded, and released from a hospital after surgery; the third agent was uninjured.
Federal investigators used ballistic testing to determine that the shootings likely resulted from friendly fire, according to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, which is assisting the FBI in the probe.
Jeffrey D. Self, commander of Customs and Border Protection's Joint Field Command-Arizona, said that despite the initial findings that the shootings appeared accidental, Ivie still "gave the ultimate sacrifice and died serving his country."
"The fact is the work of the Border Patrol is dangerous," Self said at a news conference in Tucson.
While federal authorities declined to offer details of the shooting, George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said all three agents fired their weapons.
McCubbin told The Arizona Republic that the agents had split up as they investigated the sensor alarm.
"Coming in from different angles, that is more than likely how it ended up happening," he said.
A Mexican law enforcement official said Thursday that federal police had arrested two men who may have been connected to the shootings. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said it was unclear if there was strong evidence linking the men to the case.
Mexican authorities didn't respond to telephone messages Friday.
Ivie's funeral is set for Monday in Sierra Vista.
The Border Patrol couldn't immediately comment on the frequency of friendly fire shootings involving its agents. However, such incidents appear to be extremely rare, if they've ever occurred at all.
"I know of absolutely none in the past, and my past goes back to 1968," Kent Lundgren, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers said, citing the year he joined the agency. "I'm not saying it never happened. I'm just saying I've never heard of it."
Also Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to Arizona to express her condolences to Ivie's family and meet with authorities.
Ivie's death marked the first fatal shooting of an agent since a 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits that killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation.
The "Fast and Furious" operation 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 that those illegal weapons are still being used.
Twenty-six Border Patrol agents have died in the line of duty since 2002.
Associated Press writers Pete Yost in Washington, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., and Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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