Hank Stephenson, a Tucson Weekly contributor who is currently working for the Nogales International (which is, like the Weekly, owned by Wick Communications), penned this piece regarding today's memorial service for slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
A sea of green and black uniforms filled Tucson’s Kino Stadium during a ceremony Friday to honor fallen Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, who was shot in the back last month while on a mission to ferret out the border bandits who plague the canyonlands of Santa Cruz County.
More than 1,000 members of law-enforcement and military agencies congregated at the facility to pay their last respects to Terry, a 40-year-old member of an elite tactical unit known as BORTAC. Their numbers included members of area fire departments, sheriff’s offices and police forces; as well as Arizona Highway Patrol, the Marines and, of course, the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Bagpipes met officials and hundreds of somber civilians in the parking lot as they filed toward the stadium, passing under a giant U.S. flag blowing in the cool breeze. Once inside, the uniformed officers waited in formation on the meticulously groomed baseball field, stiff in a position that they wouldn’t relax until the memorial was over. A CBP helicopter was parked on second base, and CBP trucks, with lights flashing, surrounded the border of the field.
Friends, bosses and fellow agents took the stage to comfort Terry’s family, eulogizing him for his dedication to service and ability to inspire others.
“Leadership is a personal commitment; it is an attitude that separates excellence from mediocrity,” said CBP Commissioner Alan D. Bersin. “He embodied it to the fullest. All know the way, few actually walk it. Brian walked it from the beginning.”
Jose J. Verdugo, Terry’s friend and fellow classmate from the Border Patrol Academy Class 699, told the crowd Terry always stood out as a leader.
“He excelled at being our leader, just as he excelled at everything else,” Verdugo said.
He and Terry were “kindred spirits,” Verdugo said. They were both older than most of their classmates, and though Terry was only a year older, Verdugo looked up to him.
“I could tell you when I saw the BORTAC uniform, I wasn’t surprised,” Verdugo said. “I knew he was destined for bigger and better things than the regular agent.
“Brian, your work ethic your integrity your sense of honor were infectious and inspirational,” he continued. “Rest in peace, super cop. You certainly were a good man. I’m a better person for having known you.”
Bersin reiterated the promises he said CBP had already made to Terry’s family: that the CBP would always be there for the family, that they would bring his killer to justice, and that they will finish Terry’s job of securing the Tucson Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Thirty-seven days ago, 55 miles south of here in the canyons west of Nogales, we lost your son,” Bersin said to Terry’s mother Josephine, who was in the audience. “We will never forget what he did, and we will never forget the three commitments that we have made to the Terry family on his behalf.”
Four men were detained shortly after Terry and his BORTAC team shot it out with a group of five suspected border bandits in Peck Canyon on the night of Dec. 14. The four have been indicted on immigration violations, but not in connection with Terry’s murder. Conflicting and confusing reports from the U.S. Marshal’s Office have suggested that it has a fifth suspect — or even a sixth — in custody as well, though the FBI has refused to confirm the reports.
Speaking at Friday’s ceremony Bersin praised Terry’s commitment to the community, which he demonstrated through his work as a Marine, a police officer in his home of Michigan, and his final service job as a Border Patrol agent.
“Throughout his life, Brian has been a protector. As a Marine, as a police officer, and a Border Patrol agent — Brian was dedicated to the protection of human life,” Bersin said. “He believed people had a right to feel safe in their communities. He believed people have a right to understand that future generations should not fear random acts of violence and terrorism. He believed that it was his responsibility, his duty, to help maintain the freedoms and human rights we enjoy as Americans.
“Brian knew that his commitment to the principles of the rule of law came with inherent dangers,” Bersin said, “yet he was still willing to put his life on the line every day for us.”