- Associated Press - Thursday, October 7, 2010

ZAPATA, Texas | A search for a missing American tourist presumably shot and killed by Mexican pirates on a border lake has been thwarted by threats of an ambush from drug gangs, U.S. officials said Thursday.

U.S.Rep. Henry Cuellar told reporters Mexican authorities are doing everything they can to find David Hartley’s body while trying to keep their own crews safe.

“When darkness was falling [Wednesday evening], they got word that there might be an ambush,” Mr. Cuellar said. “People that are trying to do their job on the Mexican side are facing a risk, they’re right inside the hornets’ nest … they had to suspend the search.”

Mr. Cuellar said the search resumed midmorning Thursday.

Tiffany Hartley said her husband, David, was fatally shot by Mexican pirates chasing them in speedboats across Falcon Lake on Sept. 30 as they were returning on Jet Skis from a trip to photograph a historic church in Mexico. Neither his body nor the Jet Ski has been recovered. Texas officials have warned boaters and fisherman that pirates frequent the Mexican side of the lake.

That part of Tamaulipas state is overrun by violence from a turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zeta drug gang, made up of former Mexican special forces soldiers, and both are battling the Mexican military.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, campaigning for re-election in Houston, said such threats were no excuse.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough. When you call off the search the way they did … and give as the reason because the drug cartels are in control of that part of the state, something’s not right,” Mr. Perry said. “We do not need to let our border continue to deteriorate from the standpoint of having drug cartels telling whether or not we can go in and bring the body of an American citizen who was killed. That is irresponsible.”

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said he has sent word to the Zetas that he wants the body returned and has no plans to prosecute.

“We just want a body,” Sheriff Gonzalez said. “We cannot arrest anybody for what happened in Mexico, … We just want a body. I did send word to the drug cartel, the Zeta cartel in Mexico. … I can’t tell you how but I sent word to them.”

Sheriff Gonzalez said he hadn’t received a response.

Mr. Cuellar, a Texas Democrat joined by two other area congressmen, said Mexican officials were “doing the best that they can.”

Martin Cuellar, sheriff of nearby Webb County and the congressman’s brother, said Mexico started searching for Mr. Hartley on Friday, the day after the call about the shooting came in.

Ruben Rios, a spokesman for the Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office, said Tamaulipas authorities have not opened an investigation into Mr. Hartley’s death because they don’t have a formal complaint.

He said they were helping with the search, with U.S. authorities, as a courtesy to Zapata County officials.

“There isn’t a complaint, there isn’t a body, we don’t have anything to go on and open an investigation,” he said.

Falcon Lake is a dammed section of the Rio Grande, 25 miles long and 3 miles across, that has been beset by pirates who rob boaters and fisherman who wander into Mexican waters. Texas officials have warned fisherman and boaters to avoid the lake. Mr. Hartley’s death would be the first killing there.

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