Agents mobilize near the scene on Tuesday/Courtesy of Customs and Border Protection
Border Patrol Commander Jeff Self at Friday's news briefing in Tucson.
PHOENIX (AP/CBS5) -
The fatal shooting of 30-year-old Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie and the wounding of another agent early Tuesday morning five miles from the border was likely a case of friendly fire, the FBI announced Friday.
The FBI said preliminary evidence points to the two agents exchanging gunfire in the mistaken belief that each was being fired on by a hostile gunman.
The FBI released the following statement:
"While it is important to emphasize that the FBI's investigation is actively continuing, there are strong preliminary indications that the death of United States Border Patrol Agent Nicholas J. Ivie and the injury to a second agent was the result of an accidental shooting incident involving only the agents.
The FBI is utilizing all necessary investigative, forensic and analytical resources in the course of this investigation. We thank the United States Customs and Border Protection, United States Border Patrol and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, for the challenging work they do every day and for their ongoing cooperation in this difficult matter. At the appropriate time further information will be provided, but while the investigation continues it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.
The FBI extends our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family, friends and co-workers of Nicholas Ivie and to our partners in the United States Border Patrol." - FBI Special Agent in Charge James L. Turgal, Jr.
The shooting occurred in a rugged hilly area near Bisbee, as the agents responded to an alarm that was triggered on one of the sensors that the government has installed along the border. The wounded agent has been released from the hospital, while a third agent was uninjured.
News that the shootings may have been a friendly fire incident surfaced on Thursday.
The Cochise County Sheriff's Office released this statement Friday afternoon:
"The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is continuing to work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the shooting incident involving three United States Border Patrol Agents.
As a result of the investigation, we are faced with the reality that this event was a tragedy for the United States Border Patrol and all law enforcement agencies nationwide. These types of occurrence are not unknown in today's law enforcement and military operations nationwide and globally, a fact which does not make the tragedy any less heartbreaking.
Cochise County Sheriff's Office Investigators briefed Chief Rothrock and advised that this could be a friendly fire incident, however additional in-depth and scientific investigation was required before a sustained conclusion could be made. The FBI completed the ballistic testing and came to the indisputable conclusion that this was an instance of 'Friendly Fire.'
Chief Rothrock said, 'This event is tragic and the conclusions of the investigation, make it no less so. Our thoughts are prayers are with the agents involved, their families, and their co-workers. The military has a saying that someone has to walk point, meaning to walk in front into the danger zone, and these agents were walking point. Someone has to lead the way and be Point, and these agents performed that duty without hesitation.'
"The Cochise County Sheriff's Office final investigative processing and procedures will not be completed until later next week." - Cochise County Sheriff's Office
Ivie and the wounded agent worked out of the Brian Terry station in the Tucson sector.
Ivie's death marked the first fatal shooting of an agent since a deadly 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits that killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010 and spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation.
Terry's shooting was later linked to that Fast and Furious operation, which allowed people suspected of illegally buying guns for others to walk away from gun shops with weapons, rather than be arrested.
Customs and Border Protection held a news briefing in Tucson Friday afternoon. Here are the full remarks delivered by Commander Jeff Self:
"Earlier today, I met with the family of Agent Nicholas J. Ivie to update them about the status of the investigation.
"As you know, investigators have made progress in the investigation into Agent Ivie's death and are looking into the possibility that it was a tragic accident, the result of "friendly fire."
"I explained to Agent Ivie's family that, if the investigation ultimately reaches that conclusion, it changes none of the following facts: That Agent Ivie gave the ultimate sacrifice and died serving his country∙ That he died in the line of duty and will be honored as such for his final act of service∙ That Agent Ivie served for more than six years protecting this country against those who threaten our way of life∙ That he will be remembered by all of us who served alongside him for his character, kindness and loyalty
"The fact is - the work of the Border Patrol is dangerous. All of us who wear the uniform know this and yet this special breed of men and women willingly put themselves in harm's way to serve their country and protect their communities against those who wish us harm.
"We have much to learn and conclude from this incident and I ask for the public's patience and understanding during this difficult time.
"I ask you to respect the privacy of Agent Ivie's family and the agents involved as we struggle to understand this tragic incident. I want to thank the investigators for their diligence and ongoing commitment to determine the facts and come to the right conclusions.
"Today, we know that in the uncertainty of darkness, the conditions were set; and the hand of God brought Nick home." - Commander Jeff Self
"Ivie's family held a news conference Thursday morning in Sierra Vista.
Nearly 100 people gathered in Naco for a candlelight vigil for Ivie. Family members, law enforcement officials and local residents attended Thursday night's event.
Ivie will be laid to rest Monday. The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse in Sierra Vista.
Stay with cbs5az.com and CBS 5 News for updates on this developing story.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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