By T.J. Woodard
Being an avid AT reader, and living on the Arizona border in Cochise County, I thought I would provide those who wish to be informed some insight into the truth about the state of the U.S.-Mexican border -- at least in this part of the state.
Five men suspected of smuggling drugs across the border ambushed a Pinal County sheriff's deputy Friday in a remote area south of Phoenix, underscoring the border-related violence that has catapulted Arizona and its new immigration law onto the national stage.
The rugged desert area where the shooting took place, near the junction of Interstate 8 and Arizona 84 in south-central Arizona, is considered a high-traffic drug- and human-smuggling corridor.
A massive hunt of 100 square miles that included helicopters with night-vision equipment and more than 200 officers, including SWAT teams, from 13 agencies was still pursuing the shooters late Friday.
More than one helicopter came under fire during the evening as officers rescued Deputy Louie Puroll, who had been shot with an AK-47-type weapon around 4 p.m., according to the Sheriff's Office.
Puroll suffered a flesh wound above his kidney that tore off a chunk of skin. He was treated at Casa Grande Regional Medical Center and released Friday night.
"Here we see the tactics have changed and become more dangerous," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said. "This has reached a critical mass for law enforcement."
Babeu said he has "called out for help" from federal officials to no avail. He said smugglers know "the police are after them and the fact they are firing upon us changes the game."
Gov. Jan Brewer also weighed in, saying in a Twitter message sent out Friday evening: "Our thoughts & prayers go out to the Pinal County Deputy shot during a stop. Contrary to what some leaders say, our borders are not secure."
Brewer could not be reached to discuss it further.
The shooting occurred exactly one week after the governor signed the toughest anti-illegal-immigration law in the country, triggering a firestorm of state and national controversy. The legislation has been hotly debated, and it has put Arizona in the spotlight over how border states deal with rampant illegal immigration.
The legislation has sparked protests and calls to boycott the Grand Canyon State from opponents, while supporters argue it should be emulated nationwide. Babeu, a frequent critic of federal immigration policy, is a strong supporter of the law.
Babeu was joined by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, another supporter of the law, at a command-post news conference late Friday at an I-8 truck stop.
Arpaio said that, in 90 days, when Arizona's new law takes effect, he will be enforcing it "100 percent," and he worries that violence common with drug cartels in Mexico will come to the U.S.
"I think this is one incident that proves that it's going to happen in the future," Arpaio said. "I predict it's going to get worse because of the chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border."
Pinal County Lt. Tami Villar said Friday's incident "sends a very powerful and loud message that we have a problem."
She added that the shooters are Hispanic men who "appear to be undocumented."
Villar said Puroll, 53, was attacked about 5 miles south of I-8. She said the veteran deputy is assigned to patrol the area known for drug smuggling.
Babeu said Puroll was tracking the smugglers, who left behind large quantities of marijuana.
Babeu said up to 30 rounds were fired at the deputy, who returned fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a handgun.
Villar said the attackers were armed with long guns and at least one handgun. She said gunfire aimed at the helicopters came about an hour after the initial incident. An unknown amount of marijuana apparently handled by the shooters remained in the desert.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office dispatched a helicopter and members of its SWAT team to Pinal County to assist in the case, said sheriff's Lt. Brian Lee. The Arizona Department of Public Safety also sent two helicopters and a SWAT team.
About 70 Maricopa County sheriff's employees also responded to the scene. Lee said most had been involved in a crime-suppression sweep in west Phoenix earlier in the day.
The Border Patrol also sent agents to help with the investigation, said Mario Escalante, a patrol spokesman. The nearest Border Patrol station in the area is in Casa Grande.
Republic reporters Allison Hurtado, JJ Hensley, Megan Boehnke and Daniel Gonzalez contributed to this article.
PORTAL - One by one, southeastern Arizona ranchers took the microphone to mourn the loss of a friend and to castigate the U.S. government for failing to protect a fellow cattleman from border violence.
Four days after Krentz's murder, friends and neighbors vented their anger, fear and frustration Wednesday during a gathering called by the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association that included U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Border Patrol officials. The friends and neighbors decried political inaction, called for a National Guard buildup on the border and demanded that law-enforcement agents be given permission to use deadly force on immigrants and smugglers who attempt to escape.
"Seal the border," said Don Kimble, a local rancher who moderated the discussion as a wind blustered outside a one-room schoolhouse. "Put the military on the border. If we can stop those people on the border, there won't be somebody coming 15 miles up here and shooting Rob Krentz."
"Millions of people have quietly infiltrated this country," added Kelly Glenn, another rancher near the Arizona-New Mexico line. "Every border community has begged for help. . . . Our politicians need to not let Rob's death be in vain."
One of the speakers, Louis Pope Jr., read a statement from the Krentz family condemning the murder and demanding action. "We hold no malice toward the Mexican people for this senseless act," he said, adding that relatives believe American politicians and Mexican leaders are accountable for failing to stop illegal immigration and smuggling. "We have paid the ultimate price for their negligence in credibly securing our border."
Giffords, a southern Arizona Democrat, listened quietly with Border Patrol officials and a crowd of about 350 to the eulogies and lamentations. Giffords told the crowd: "The Krentz family and all of you have a right to live in safety on your property. . . . And the U.S. government has to be there and back you. ... We will all work together, Democrats and Republicans, to fix this problem."
The Cochise County Sheriff's Office says Krentz, a third-generation rancher, was killed Saturday while working on his ranch about 30 miles northeast of Douglas. Investigators tracked the footprints of a lone gunman 20 miles to the Mexican border, but authorities have no leads on a suspect.
At Wednesday's gathering, a Department of Homeland Security official announced that the federal government is posting a $25,000 reward for information on the killer, adding to an estimated $15,000 reward already offered by the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association.
Many of the ranchers described their sense of isolation and fear in a backcountry area that has become a conduit for smuggling and illegal immigration as enforcement has clamped down elsewhere on the border. They complained of burglaries, trampled fences and encounters with armed smugglers.
"You're scared and you're angry, and I don't blame you," said Peggy Davis, holding up an infant granddaughter. "I spend days like a prisoner in my own home."
Steve Smith said Krentz died as an example of what they all feared and warned about. "Rob was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was doing what we all do everyday," Smith said. "I honestly don't know what the answer is or what will work."
The Krentz family's statement, read by Pope, urged President Barack Obama to deploy U.S. military personnel along the Mexican border with Arizona and New Mexico.
Giffords issued a similar appeal in a letter to the president and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The congresswoman said Krentz's slaying "is a sober reminder that the safety of U.S. citizens on American soil is under attack. . . . The people I represent are angry and demand action."
Besides sending in the National Guard, Giffords called for more Border Patrol agents in the area, with improved law-enforcement communications and coordination along the "front lines of this crisis."
Scott Arenas, a longtime friend of Krentz, said family members can only hope that the homicide will galvanize the public and politicians. "The whole thing is senseless," he added. "(But) you want to channel this into something really positive."
Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, a U.S. Senate candidate who attended the meeting, said Krentz's death belies suggestions that the border is secure. "To put it diplomatically, that's incorrect," Hayworth said. "To put it realistically, that's a lie."