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Ranger another victim of deadly border

Citizen Staff



Arizona park ranger Kris Eggle rode one last time across the Arizona desert this morning.

The remains of the ranger were escorted from Why to Ajo for a memorial service.

The 28-year-old’s casket was draped with an American flag and with the National Park Service Stetson he wore on the job in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

That is where he died Friday while helping U.S. Border Patrol officers track fugitives from Mexico.

In addition to Mexican authorities, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and the National Park Service are investigating Eggle’s shooting.

Eggle, a University of Michigan cross country runner and valedictorian of his high school class in Michigan, was raised on his family’s 130-year-old farm in Cadillac, Mich.

In 1995, he began his association with the Park Service as a student conservation assistant at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, tracking wild boar and bears.

He joined the Park Service staff at Organ Pipe in Arizona in 2000. A devout Baptist, he became a member of the congregation at Ajo Calvary Baptist Church.

Eggle was killed trying to help U.S. officers and others capture a Mexican gunman armed with an AK-47 rifle, authorities said.

The violence that led to his death started in the underbelly of Mexico’s drug world with a $15,000 murder-for-hire contract taken out on a Sonoyta drug boss, Mexican authorities said.

Within 36 hours of the execution-style murders of four men in Sonoyta on Thursday, the violence reached the U.S.-Mexico border.

Two armed fugitives entered the United States through the remote Organ Pipe Monument.

A standoff within a mile of the international border Friday resulted in the shooting deaths of Eggle and his accused killer.

One Mexican gunman, armed with an AK-47, was tentatively identified by the Sonoran Attorney General’s Office as Panfilo Murillo Aguila, a drug dealer known as “El Zarco,” who died in a hail of bullets apparently fired by Mexican authorities.

A second Mexican suspect taken into custody has not been identified.

American officials would not confirm Mexican authorities’ account that “El Zarco” was the man who shot Eggle and then was killed on the U.S. side of the border.

Officials from the Mexican Consulate are working to identify the body, said Pima County Deputy Nicole Feldt.

Mexican and American authorities have worked since Friday to piece together the events that led to the killing of Eggle, a decorated park ranger.

Eggle was an Eagle Scout, his grandmother, Beth Eggle, said. He graduated with honors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1995 and then joined the Park Service.

Eggle’s 29th birthday would have been Aug. 25, his parents’ wedding anniversary.

“He was a very outgoing young man who was concerned about watching over others and protecting them,” his grandmother said. “He was killed protecting people.”

Mexican authorities are searching for three military deserters from Tijuana who are suspected of playing a role in the executions of four men, said Carlos Castillo Ortega, deputy attorney general for the Sonoran Attorney General’s Office.

On Thursday night, Mexican police arrested Jesus Martin Yescas Zazueta, 19, who told investigators about the contract killings, Castillo Ortega said.

The military deserter, who was previously stationed in Tijuana, said he and three other men were hired to kill a drug lord known as “El Pay,” Castillo Ortega said.

When los sicarios, the hit men, found “El Pay’s” house in Sonoyta, he wasn’t home. They found four men inside, took them to an area about 10 miles west of the Mexican border town and executed them, Castillo Ortega said.

When officers found the bodies Friday, three of the men had their hands tied behind their backs and bullet wounds in the back of their skulls.

The fourth victim was not bound, and his body had gunshot wounds, authorities said.

It remains unclear for whom the military deserters were working, although Castillo Ortega said they may have been working for Murillo Aguila, the drug dealer alleged to have killed Eggle.

“We suspect ‘El Zarco’ may be from the same group that we have in custody, but we are still investigating,” Castillo Ortega said.

The incident started at about 1:30 p.m. Friday when Sonoran police following a gray sport utility vehicle headed for the U.S.-Mexico border called for help from U.S. authorities.

Eggle and three Border Patrol agents went to the area, just east of Lukeville, a port of entry about 40 miles south of Ajo.

The SUV crossed the border into Organ Pipe, trying to evade authorities, Feldt said.

A Border Patrol helicopter found the vehicle and alerted agents on the ground.

As the agents closed in on the two fugitives, the suspects’ vehicle got stuck in the rough desert, Feldt said.

One of the men ran northwest from the vehicle and was caught by agents.

The other got out of the vehicle “armed with a long rifle and fled into some brush,” she said.

Eggle followed him. He was shot below his bulletproof vest.

At 1:15 p.m, an “officer down” call came over the radio.

The gunman headed back toward Mexico, Feldt said, where “he was fired at numerous times by law enforcement in Mexico.”

He was shot on the U.S. side of the border and died in an ambulance as Park Service rangers tried to save his life, said park spokesman Rick Jones.

Eggle died in an ambulance, too, while his colleagues tried to save him.

Feldt said the shot that killed the Mexican man came from Mexican law enforcement.

“We know the Border Patrol agents, as well as the parks officer, did not fire their weapons,” she said.

Investigators are waiting for ballistics tests on the rifle to determine if the shot that killed Eggle was fired by the suspected drug dealer.

Last month, Organ Pipe was identified as the most dangerous in the National Park system for the second year in a row, according to a national survey conducted by the Fraternal Order of Police chapter for park rangers.

Last year, authorities intercepted 200,000 migrants and 700,000 pounds of drugs in Organ Pipe.

Bill Wellman, Organ Pipe superintendent, said in a statement released Saturday: “Kris was an extremely talented and dedicated ranger. He knew his job well and loved doing it. His death is a tremendous loss to his family, to the National Park Service and to the people he served.”

Eggle organized youth activities at his church, his grandmother said.

Beth Eggle described her grandson as a natural leader.

“He was class president his junior year (of high school),” she recalled. “And they wanted to make him senior president, but he said ‘no.’ He’d rather another fellow get a chance.”

“That’s the way he was,” she said. “He was a very understanding and outgoing person who wanted to help however he could. He was a leader, but he was never self-centered. He never wanted to take credit for anything.”

Eggle was named president of his class at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and was awarded the National Park Service Director’s Award.

His younger sister followed him into the National Park Service, Beth Eggle said. The two of them worked together at Organ Pipe before she was transferred to Yellowstone National Park, she said.

Beth Eggle became emotional when she talked about one of the highlights of her grandson’s life, running in marathons with his father.

“It was beautiful just to see (Kris) run. He had a beautiful, swanlike form,” she said. “We have some wonderful memories.”

A memorial service was scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Ajo Calvary Baptist Church. A funeral service will be held in Cadillac, Mich.

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