A family outing, then a deadly Border Patrol shooting


It was a family barbecue in a park on the Rio Grande, a belated birthday party for Guillermo Arevalo Pedraza's wife, Nora, and their two daughters, Mariana and Priscila, ages 9 and 10.

Arevalo and his buddy, Josue Gonzalez, were lighting the coals and the girls were playing by the water's edge when they heard the deafening roar of a Border Patrol airboat.

They watched it turn in the fast current and pull beside a man in the river. An agitated crowd soon gathered on the Mexican shore and began shouting at the two agents to let him be.

Gonzalez and Arevalo ran toward the commotion, the girls close behind. Gonzalez could see one of the border agents try to snag the swimmer with a long boat hook.

The agents in the airboat later would report that about 20 people on the Mexican shore began throwing rocks at them. Mexican witnesses would deny it.

What's not in dispute is that an agent dropped to one knee, aimed and fired at least five shots from his M4 carbine. "Good lighting," the agents' report states. "Subject silhouetted."

People screamed and scattered up the riverbank. Gonzalez dived into the tall grass. Arevalo, a burly 37-year-old bricklayer, was slower.

A bullet hit the rocks, and fragments tore into his left leg. As he went down, another round slammed into his left side, above the pelvis. A third round punctured the right side of his chest.

"Ayudame, ayudame," Arevalo whispered, reaching his hand out before he died. Help me.

More than two years later, the FBI is still investigating the case. The Border Patrol has not given Arevalo's family any explanation of what happened other than a three-sentence statement issued a day after he was killed.

It said agents in a boat were "subjected to rocks being thrown at them" from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. "A weapon was discharged by Border Patrol," it added. It did not mention any casualties.

A Times investigation — based on the Border Patrol's Use of Force report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Mexican autopsy and police records, court documents and interviews with four witnesses — raises questions about whether the agent who fired from the boat overstated the threat from shore, and whether the shooting was justified...

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