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Mexican official leading probe of Texan’s death reported killed

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Law enforcement authorities in the United States and Mexico on Tuesday confirmed the slaying of the high-ranking Mexican state police commander who was overseeing an investigation into the fatal shooting by suspected pirates of an American tourist on a Texas border lake.

Prosecutors in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which runs along the Texas border from Brownsville to Laredo, identified the dead commander as Rolando Flores, who headed state investigators in the border city of Ciudad Miguel Aleman.

Spokesman Ruben Rios said authorities "don't know how or why he was killed," but confirmed that Commander Flores "unfortunately, was killed."

American David Michael Hartley of McAllen, Texas, was fatally shot Sept. 30 after being ambushed, according to U.S. authorities, by six Mexican pirates in at least two boats on Falcon Lake near Zapata, Texas.

U.S. officials have said threats from the Mexican drug cartels who control the area around the lake, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, have hampered the search for Mr. Hartley's body.

Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican who has been a staunch supporter of increased border security, said Tuesday the killing of Commander Flores "wasn't a warning to Mexican officials, but a message to the U.S. to stay away from the border."

Mr. Poe's office confirmed Tuesday night that a second person in the investigation also was killed. A decapitated head was found Tuesday morning by Mexican officials and later identified as that of "a person who was involved in the search/investigation of the alleged murder of David Hartley," Mr. Poe's office said, citing the U.S. Consulate's office in Matamoros, Mexico.

Mexican drug lords commonly dismember their victims and display the heads, limbs and torsos publicly.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said Mr. Hartley, 30, was riding with his wife on personal watercraft on the lake at the time of the shooting. The sheriff said Mr. Hartley's wife, Tiffany, tried circling back to pull him from the water, but the gunmen fired at her and forced her to retreat. Mrs. Hartley said pirates attacked her and her husband as they were returning to the U.S. from Mexican waters.

U.S. officials, particularly Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Mr. Hartley's family have pressured the Mexican government to step up the search for the missing man and determine how he was killed, by whom and why.

Falcon Lake is a dammed section of the Rio Grande, 25 miles long and three miles wide, that is considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country.

Pirates have become a persistent problem over the past several months, and earlier this year, and Texas authorities warned boaters to stay on the U.S. side of Falcon Lake after several reported confrontations between boaters, fishermen and suspected drug smugglers armed with assault rifles.

Sheriff Gonzalez said the lake's first suspected pirate hijacking occurred in April, when fishermen had their boat stolen and were left naked on the Mexican side with only a cellular phone to call for help.

Mr. Poe warned recently during a speech on the House floor that Americans were being targeted inside the U.S., including fishermen on Falcon Lake. He said the lake had been "intruded on by the lawlessness seeping over from the Mexican border," noting that in two separate incidents, U.S. fishermen were robbed at gunpoint by Mexican pirates who held AR-15 rifles to their heads.

In response to what he called the federal government's failure to answer the repeated requests of border state governors to protect the nation's international borders, Mr. Poe has introduced legislation making National Guard troops available to border states to help secure the border.

He said the National Guard Border Enforcement Act would ensure border states "have the needed resources to protect their citizens from the ongoing border-related violence."

The bill, endorsed by 20 other Republican members of the House, would authorize the secretary of defense to make 10,000 National Guard troops available on request from a U.S. governor. In addition, the troops would be paid for by the federal government and serve under the command of the requesting governor.

"The first duty of the federal government is to protect its people," Mr. Poe said. "Texans are tired of the federal government's failure to secure our borders and enforce our laws, yet at the same time running roughshod over state governments when they try to enforce the law and protect their citizens."

More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico's ongoing drug war, which U.S. authorities have said has spilled into the United States. In September, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) posted signs along a major interstate highway in Arizona, warning travelers the area was unsafe because of drug and alien smugglers.

Under the National Guard Border Enforcement Act, troops would be authorized to conduct armed vehicle and foot patrols on the U.S. southern border; interdict vehicles, vessels and aircraft; search, seize and detain suspects; construct roads, fences and vehicle barriers; conduct search-and-rescue operations; gather intelligence; conduct surveillance and reconnaissance; and rely on aviation support.

Additionally, the bill would allow the secretary of defense to authorize additional troops, should operational control of the U.S. border not be achieved with the first 10,000 National Guard troops deployed.

Mr. Hartley's father, Dennis, told the Associated Press that he was shocked by the killing of Commander Flores and regretted his death.

"I just, I'm in shock about this right now," he said. "I really don't have any hope that David will be found. I really hate other people putting their lives at stake. We don't need more sons lost. If this is true, I'm just really heartbroken that this happened."

The Mexican government has said it is using federal, state and local resources, including the military and helicopters, to search for Mr. Hartley's body.

Texas Rangers and Texas Parks and Wildlife reconnaissance teams also have joined local and state authorities in searching for the body.

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