Authorities Charge 2 In Fatal Ambush Of Immigrants In Arizona

Friday, March 30th 2007, 9:15 pm
By: News On 6

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Gunmen apparently trying to seize a smugglers' truckload of drugs attacked a pickup hauling 23 suspected illegal immigrants early Friday, killing two people and wounding another, authorities said.

Within hours, Border Patrol agents tracking footprints found two men along with three high-powered weapons near a campsite south of where the shooting occurred, a Border Patrol deputy chief and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said.

The men were questioned Friday afternoon and admitted to having fired high-powered weapons into the truck and were charged with two counts each of homicide and 21 counts each of attempted homicide, sheriff's Criminal Investigations Chief Richard Kastigar said.

Rosario Humberto Araujo-Monarrez, 21, and Martin Esrain Flores-Gaxiola, 18, from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, were being processed before being booked into the Pima County Jail and other charges could be pending, he said. Police also were seeking two other suspects.

The shootings occurred about 5 a.m. on a rural road west of Interstate 19 near Green Valley, a retirement community about 25 miles south of Tucson.

A man and a woman were killed and one person was hospitalized for wounds in the upper torso and an ankle, Kastigar said.

``The vehicle is riddled with bullets,'' and was hit from the front and both sides, Dupnik said. He said the bullets appeared to include a .223, one fired from an AK-47 and one an apparent shotgun slug.

Children ages 6 and 7 and a 6-month-old baby were in the truck's cab, where one of the adults killed was sitting, but no child was injured.

The group had crossed into the U.S. on foot the night before near Sasabe and were picked up by two or three smugglers, or coyotes, with a Ford pickup registered in Henderson, Nev., Dupnik said.

Dupnik said one witness inside the pickup heard the driver yell at the shooters: ``'I don't have any drugs, I have people.'''

``So we're assuming from that at least the driver _ probably the coyote _ believed that the suspects were after drugs,'' Dupnik said.

It was not clear if the two men who were charged had attorneys.

Escalating violence on and near the border that has victimized illegal immigrants in recent months has reached crisis levels, Dupnik said.

``The violence associated with the problem of migration and narcotics and other contraband going both north and south has reached epidemic proportions, and the safety of everyone in this state if not in this country is in some way affected by what's occurring,'' the sheriff said.

A similar attack in February on a vehicle carrying a group of illegal immigrants northwest of Tucson killed two men and a girl and left two others wounded.

The illegal immigrants attacked Friday included members of at least three families from the southern Mexico state of Chiapas, Dupnik said.

The driver apparently sped through the shooting spree, then stopped and those inside ran into the desert.

Deputies and Border Patrol agents launched a ground and air search for survivors. They located 20 uninjured migrants, in addition to the dead and wounded. They are being held by the Border Patrol.

Dupnik said law enforcement resources on the federal, state and local levels have been taxed to their limits. ``We are literally overwhelmed by the problem,'' he said _ and he criticized the federal Department of Homeland Security for devoting most of its grants to state and local agencies for what he called reactionary purposes, including training exercises for disaster response that could cost $2 million each.

He said his department has been asking for communications help and would like to institute a program to cut down on stolen vehicles being driven south to Mexico.

``If we had the money for the kinds of resources that we need we could make a huge impact on the border violence and crime,'' Dupnik said.