A border patrol agent was shot and killed in an exchange of gunfire with alleged bandits along Arizona's boundary with Mexico.
The gun battle Tuesday night left Brian Terry, 40, dead, National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner said. Terry was with three other agents, though none of the others were injured.
Bonner said the shootout was with suspects known for targeting immigrants along a violent smuggling corridor in the state's desert, in a remote area north of the border city of Nogales. One suspect was also shot, he added.
Four suspects are in custody and a fifth is being sought, said Border Patrol spokesman Eric Cantu and FBI spokeswoman Brenda Lee Nath. They declined, however, to confirm Bonner's account.
The shooting followed months of heated political rhetoric on the immigration issue in Arizona as lawmakers passed a sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Politicians pushing for immigration reform cite violence episodes like the Border Patrol shooting as proof that the state and federal governments need to better secure the border.
"It is a stark reminder of the very real dangers our men and women on the front lines confront everyday as they protect our communities and the American people," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
She plans to be in Arizona on Thursday and Friday to meet with Border Patrol agents in Nogales and Tucson.
The shooting occurred in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, the busiest gateway for undocumented immigrants into the United States. Half of the marijuana seizures along the 1,969-mile southern border are made in the sector, which covers 262 miles of the boundary.
Terry was part of an elite squad similar to a police SWAT team that was sent to a remote area north of Nogales known for border banditry, drug smuggling and violence, said Border Patrol Agent Brandon Judd, president of the local agents' union.
Terry and the other agents came across a group of five people. There was no sign that they were hauling drugs, but two were carrying rifles, said Judd, who didn't know what prompted the firefight.
Bonner, whose group represents 17,000 agents, said the fatal shooting shows that the border is still dangerous.
"This is a sign that the politicians and bureaucrats are overly optimistic in their assessment that the borders are more secure now than at any point in our history. It showed just the opposite," Bonner said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has railed against border violence and signed Arizona's new illegal-immigration law earlier this year, struck a similar tone.
"Although we needed no reminder of the ever-increasing dangers along our southern border, this tragedy serves as stark notice that the threats facing all who serve in protecting our state and nation are real and are increasing on a daily basis," Brewer said.
Terry, a native of the Detroit area, served in the Marines and as a police officer in the Michigan cities of Ecorse and Lincoln Park before joining the Border Patrol in 2007. He wasn't married and didn't have any children.
He is survived by his mother, father, a brother and two sisters.
Terry's older sister, Michelle Terry-Balogh, told The Associated Press from Flat Rock, Mich., that her brother loved his job.
"It was his life," she said. "He said it was very dangerous, but he loved what he did and wanted to make a difference."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.
KSAZ's Steve Krafft reports from Arizona on the dangers of patrolling the border.