Chanting demands for justice and a thorough investigation, roughly 30 friends, relatives and supporters of the slain 16-year-old Nogales, Sonora, resident José Antonio Elena Rodriguez marched to the Sonoran side of the downtown port-of-entry Saturday morning.
José Antonio was killed the evening of Oct. 10 in a Border Patrol shooting that is still under investigation on both sides of the border.
The march ended a few blocks west, at the site of José Antonio’s death, near the corner of Internacional and Ingenieros. Standing just feet away from that corner, anger comes easily to Araceli Rodriguez, the young man’s mother.
“They’ve taken a piece of my heart. It’s where they buried him,” she said. “No one is going to return my son to me. No one can give me back the hugs I gave him, the kisses, his voice or his smile.”
Joining marchers were friends and family of Ramses Barrón Torres, another Nogales youth killed under similar circumstances by Border Patrol in early 2011. The march itself was organized by both of the families.
Taide Elena, José Antonio’s grandmother, said that the two families coming together for the march is an important development.
“Unity makes strength,” she said. “That’s why we’re coming together.”
Very little is known for certain about the circumstances of Jose Antonio’s shooting. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, the agents involved responded to a report of suspected smuggling around 11:30 the evening of Oct. 10. Shortly after arriving, Border Patrol officials claim that its agents started being assaulted by rocks from the other side. After issuing repeated commands to stop throwing rocks, one agent opened fire into Mexico at the rock-throwers.
A police report filed by two Nogales Police Department officers on the scene that evening corroborate some but not all of BP’s statements. Both Officer John Zuniga and Officer Quinardo Garcia report hearing and seeing rocks being thrown, but neither reports having heard Border Patrol agents warn subjects on the other side, or ordering them to stop throwing rocks.
José Antonio's death was the latest in a string of fatal Border Patrol shootings and the fifth in just the last three months. According to the Southern Border Communities Coalition, there have been 19 fatal Border Patrol shootings since 2010, many of which involved alleged rock-throwing.
The shooting also comes on the heels of an announcement by the Office of the Inspector General that it will look into the use of force policies of the Border Patrol and instances of reported brutality. That decision was spurred by a letter from 16 members of the U.S. Congress expressing concern about the 2010 death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas while in Border Patrol custody, the brutal circumstances of which were documented in the PBS report Crossing the Line at the Border last April.
As investigations into his death proceed, José Antonio’s family continues to mourn and put pressure on both the U.S. and Mexican governments.
“We’re marching so that justice is done,” Ms. Rodriguez said, “so that my son’s case isn’t forgotten.”
Story by Murphy Woodhouse; photos by Josh Morgan