Three men who were on the scene when a Border Patrol agent shot and killed a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman near the US–Mexico border in May are expected to be deported soon, a representative of their government has told BuzzFeed News.
Guatemalan General Consul Tekandi Paniagua said the men, ages 18, 19, and 21, have told US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI that they want to return to Guatemala and are expected to drop their efforts to stay in the United States at an immigration hearing set for Monday.
Two of the men have told authorities that they did not see the shooting, Paniagua said, but the consulate described the third as a possible eyewitness.
Paniagua declined to go into specifics, citing ongoing investigations, but he said all three men's statements contradict the Border Patrol's initial version that the still unnamed agent shot Claudia Patricia Gómez González only after he was attacked by the undocumented migrants he was pursuing. The FBI and the Texas Rangers, the two agencies investigating the shooting, have yet to provide an official version of what took place.
Apart from the unnamed Border Patrol agent who fired the shot that killed Gómez González, the three men are the only known material witnesses in the shooting, and it is unclear how their absence from the United States would affect the investigation, especially if their statements turn out to be the only ones contradicting the Border Patrol's claim that the agent had fired his weapon in self-defense.
Michael Wu, an officer with the Webb County District Attorney’s Office who executed a search warrant for the lot where the shooting took place, was told by an FBI agent at the scene that the agent who shot Gómez González had been attacked with a stick and fired the bullet in self-defense, according to the warrant.
Gómez González had traveled 15 days through Mexico from her home in Guatemala before being fatally shot May 23 in Rio Bravo, Texas, shortly after crossing into the US.
The shooting garnered national attention because of cellphone footage of its immediate aftermath and the conflicting statements from US Customs and Border Protection about the events that led to the shooting.
A statement from CBP said the agent, a 15-year veteran of the Border Patrol, had been “allegedly assaulted” and “rushed" by a group of migrants who had entered the United States illegally.
“According to the agent, the group ignored his verbal commands [to get on the ground] and instead rushed him,” the statement read.
Paniagua, who is based in Del Rio, Texas, said the three men denied attacking the agent before he shot Gómez González. Paniagua said the FBI had told them that there was the chance they could apply for some type of immigration relief but they declined.
“It was not an easy choice for them to make and it is the one we have to respect. It's our job to support them,” Paniagua told BuzzFeed News. “They’re desperate, sitting behind bars.”
Paniagua described the three men as very innocent in nature, almost kids who found themselves ensnared in a criminal investigation surrounding a very contentious issue in the United States, the policing of the border.
Johnny Hernandez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety which the Texas Rangers are a division of, the three men have been interviewed and authorities have their contact information.
"The case is still under investigation," Hernandez told BuzzFeed News.
The FBI declined to comment.
CBP was criticized for changing its statements about the shooting. The first statement, hours after Gómez González was shot, said a lone Border Patrol agent had discovered a group of migrant people near a culvert. “Initial reports indicate that as the agent attempted to apprehend the group, he came under attack by multiple subjects using blunt objects,” the statement said, describing Gómez González as “one of the assailants.” The agent, the statement said, then fired at least one shot that killed Gómez González.
Two days later, the agency issued another statement that again described Gómez González as a member of the group the agent was pursuing, but omitting any mention of blunt objects.
In the first statement, Gómez González was described as “one of the assailants” who attacked the agent with blunt objects before he shot her. But in the second statement, she was described as a member of the group.
A woman who lived next door to the empty lot where Gómez González was shot recorded cellphone video of the aftermath. Marta Martínez’s unpublished video, which she’s turned over to the FBI, challenges CBP’s account of what happened. For one, several agents are visible, though whether they arrived before or after the shooting isn’t certain. For another, Gómez González's body can be seen in bushes near a fence that separates the empty lot from Martínez’s. Martínez thinks Gómez González probably was hiding when she was killed.
For now, Paniagua said Guatemala is hoping there will be a clear account of what transpired on that hot afternoon less than a half-mile from the Rio Grande.
“I didn’t see what happened,” Paniagua said. “But what I’m certain of is that the Guatemalans coming to the US are peaceful, hardworking, honorable people who are not here to break laws or disrespect authorities.”
"They just turned 18 but they're basically kids," Paniagua said. "They could've also easily been victims of a shooting. Even so they want to go back as soon as possible."