PHOENIX — The U.S. Border Patrol agent killed last week in a shooting in southern Arizona apparently opened fire on two fellow agents thinking they were armed smugglers. He was then killed when they returned fire, the head of the Border Patrol agents' union said Sunday.
The two sets of agents approached an area where a sensor had been activated early Tuesday from different directions and encountered each other in heavy brush, National Border Patrol Council president George McCubbin said.
Agent Nicholas Ivie apparently opened fire first and wounded one of the other agents but was killed in the return fire.
"I don't know what it was he saw or heard that triggered this whole event," McCubbin said. "Unfortunately it resulted in his death and another agent injured."
Acting Cochise County Sheriff Rod Rothrock confirmed the scenario but would not say if Ivie was the first to shoot, saying that was up to the federal agencies involved.
The new details add to an FBI statement Friday that the shooting appeared to be a friendly fire incident that involved no one but the agents.
Sensors are set up in different areas along the U.S.-Mexico border to detect smugglers or illegal immigrants with Border Patrol agents responding when they go off. The shooting occurred in a rugged area about 5 miles north of the border near Bisbee, Ariz., an area known for illegal trafficking.
McCubbin and Rothrock both said the two sets of agents knew the others were heading to the area on foot but apparently didn't know they were so close.
Ivie, 30, died at the scene, and one of the other agents was wounded but has since been released from the hospital.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the Border Patrol and other federal and local agencies flooded the area with personnel looking for who they believed were assailants.
Two people suspected of being involved in the shooting were arrested by the Mexican government but were apparently not involved.