EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Mexican army is turning over to civilian authorities four soldiers allegedly involved in a fatal high-speed pursuit of a vehicle carrying several migrants to the U.S. border wall Monday night.
Some of the soldiers allegedly shot at the fleeing vehicle, killing two Guatemalan nationals and wounding four other Central Americans. The vehicle, which was carrying a ladder, came to a stop in the desert south of the border wall near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, Chihuahua state authorities said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
The driver of the vehicle and four migrant women who were not hit by the bullets managed to get away and have not been found, said Deputy State Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas.
The dead are identified as Margarito Canto, 45, and Elvis Enriquez Barriento, 27, both of Guatemala. The injured are Raul de Jesus Hernandez, 18, from Honduras, Selvin Eduardo Garcia, 18, Carlos Humberto Rodriguez, 19, and Rigoberto Gonzalez, 28, all from Guatemala.
“The Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) is presenting to us one possible participant. The other one has not been found,” Salas said. “They tell us that according to testimonies – and they have a video with the injured – that they (the migrants) were chased, did not stop and shots were fired.”
The deputy attorney general said it is not clear if the soldiers were fired at or thought they were fired at during the encounter. He did not elaborate on the role of the fifth, now unaccounted-for soldier.
“Up to now, it has not been determined if there was an aggression on the part of the migrants toward the soldiers,” Salas said. “Once we are done deposing the injured and the soldiers, because this is a federal matter, we will be turning over (the case) to the Federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR). Once we are done with ballistics and autopsies, we will send to FGR.”
State officials said they still don’t know exactly what happened. The pursuit took place a 90-minute drive west of Juarez over dirt roads. The incident happened around 6 p.m. but state police officers did not locate the scene until 9 p.m. Also, because the entire area is in the desert, bullet casings have been hard to find.
Salas was asked at the news conference if the area is a migrant trafficking corridor.
“It’s a place that is under watch, so much so that there was (this) encounter with soldiers making their rounds. It is a place of illegal transit, a place where we see a lot of movement of (migrants) and people dedicated to” migrant smuggling, he said. “We cannot assume (the soldiers exceeded their authority) until we talk to the military. We will see if there was a motive for the shooting, but that will be up to the federal prosecutors.”
No charges had been filed as of late Tuesday.
State authorities are working with the consulates of Guatemala and Honduras to communicate with the relatives of the deceased and the injured and to provide assistance, Salas said.