FBI: Border agent’s death a ‘potential assault ’

FBI Special Agent in Charge of the El Paso field office Emmerson Buie Jr. speaks during a press conference at the FBI field office, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in El Paso, Texas, about the death of a border patrol agent and the severe injuries of a second agent. FBI officials said Tuesday that officers are investigating the incident as a “potential physical assault” on federal officers, but said there are several scenarios that might have led to the agents’ injuries. (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)

DALLAS (AP) — An FBI official said Tuesday that the bureau is investigating the death of a border patrol agent and severe injuries to another as “potential assault,” but he wouldn’t rule out that they could have been hurt in some other way.

Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. said during a news conference in El Paso that investigators are still trying to “gather the facts,” but they are currently treating it as an assault on a federal officer.

The couched language comes more than two days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Rogelio Martinez succumbed to traumatic head injuries and broken bones suffered while on duty, and after several politicians portrayed his death as the result of an attack.

Martinez died Sunday and his partner, whose name has not been released, was seriously injured. They were found late Saturday in a culvert near Van Horn, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the border with Mexico and 110 miles (175 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Buie and U.S. Border Patrol Acting Chief Victor Velazquez did not say why they believed the agents may have been attacked.

Authorities haven’t said whether they have any suspects. The state of Texas is offering a $20,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or conviction, and the FBI on Tuesday tacked on an additional $25,000.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press Martinez may have fallen into the culvert. The official said Martinez’s partner, who radioed for help, was still recovering in the hospital and has no memory of what happened. The official, who was briefed on the investigation spoke on condition of anonymity and is not authorized to speak publicly, said it happened after dark in an area that’s known for drug activity and where agents often look for drugs in culverts.

Rush Carter, a border patrol supervisor for the region that includes the area where the agents were injured, said Monday night that reports it was an attack were “speculation.” But several elected officials, including President Donald Trump, referred to it as such.

When asked about the president’s remarks Tuesday, Buie said he had not briefed Trump on the investigation.

An FBI spokeswoman told the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday that the agents were “not fired upon,” but she didn’t elaborate.

Martinez’s mother, Elvia Martinez, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she and her husband are also awaiting more information. She said she didn’t yet know any details about the circumstances surrounding their son’s death.

“He was a very accomplished person and loved his work,” she said tearfully and in Spanish.

Rogelio Martinez, father to an 11-year-old, joined the Border Patrol in 2013.

Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for a border patrol agents union, the National Border Patrol Council, told The Associated Press that the two agents appeared to have been struck in the head with a rock or rocks. Cabrera said agents who responded to the scene described it as “grisly” and said Martinez and his partner had “extensive injuries.”

Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to insist that Martinez’s death underscores the need for a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The president offered his condolences to Martinez’s family. He also said Martinez’s partner was “brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt” but that it “looks like he’ll make it.”

Authorities haven’t said whether they think drug smugglers or people who were in the country illegally were involved.

Martinez is the second agent to have died this year.

The Border Patrol website lists 38 agents, not including Martinez, who have died since late 2003. Some were attacked while working along the border and others were killed in traffic accidents.

___

Schmall reported in Fort Worth. Associated Press writers David Warren in Dallas and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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