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Border Shooting Brings Boy and Family a Spark of Hope

Times Staff Writer

Until April 18, life was a hopeless, never-ending cycle of poverty for Humberto Carrillo-Estrada. On that day the Tijuana boy was shot in the back by a Border Patrol agent firing across the international line.

After two hospital stays, Humberto, 12, is back at home in one of Tijuana’s most depressing ghettos and recovering from his encounter with Border Patrol Agent Edward D. (Ned) Cole. There apparently will be no permanent injury as a result of the shooting.

But the incident produced international headlines, and, in a macabre way, Humberto’s brush with death brought him and his family fame and, compared to his surroundings, a modest fortune.

TV, but No Electricity

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Tucked away in a box in a corner of the three-room, tar-paper shack that serves as home for the family of seven is a new color television, a gift from Baja California’s governor. The set looks out of place in the family’s impoverished surroundings. It is also useless since the government has not installed electricity in the area.

State officials recently began installing power lines in the neighborhood, and electricity may arrive by the time the state government finishes building a home for the family, said Humberto’s mother, Maria Elena Estrada.

The new home is the biggest reward of Humberto’s sudden, but unsolicited, fame. Government officials also gave the family 80,000 pesos, about $340, after the shooting, Estrada said. With six children ranging from 4 to 15 years old, the money was spent quickly, she said in Spanish.

Promised a Job

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Estrada, a single parent who supports her family by washing and ironing clothes, has been promised a job by the state. However, a bad back and difficulty in finding someone to care for her three preschool children have prevented her from taking the job.

Estrada and her son admit that if it were not for Cole’s bullet, the family would still be living in hopeless poverty--with Humberto selling gum on Tijuana sidewalks and his brother, Eduardo, 15, hawking newspapers at the city’s intersections.

The boys could also be found frequently among the hundreds of street urchins who line the traffic lanes on the Mexican side at the San Ysidro crossing, using dusty rags to clean the Americans’ windshields and hoping for a few coins in return.

Sitting in a small, darkened room, Estrada tells a visitor that she is thankful that her son is alive and for all the help her family has received from U.S. and Mexican citizens since the shooting. Because of that help, neighbors in Tijuana’s impoverished Colonia Emiliano Zapata believe that the family has become wealthy overnight, Estrada said.

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‘We Are Together’

“As you can see, we are a very poor family. But, we are together. And although we don’t have much in the way of nice things, we are a family. Some of our neighbors think that we are now rich because of the gifts we have received since Humberto was shot. But we’re not. I would prefer not to receive these things because my son had to suffer greatly for this.”

On April 18, Cole, 34, fired three times across the border at the boy--hitting him once--after the boy and a girl playmate allegedly tossed rocks and bottles at him and other agents over the nine-foot border fence.

Cole was helping two other agents arrest Humberto’s brother, Eduardo, who was returning to Mexico through a hole in the fence.

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San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller later decided not to prosecute Cole.

Humberto, a frail-looking youth, said he remembers vividly the heat of the .357 Magnum bullet. It entered through his left shoulder, bounced off a rib and ripped across his torso before lodging under the right shoulder. The bullet, the boy said, cut through his insides like a hot knife through butter.

‘I Cheated Death’

“I cheated death,” he said. “Sometimes, when I’m alone and think about the shooting, I close my eyes and see the bullet hitting my sweater. It makes a small hole and then another as it goes through my shirt. Then, I feel the heat. It’s a hot line that runs through my body, from shoulder to shoulder.”

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Humberto, whose story was widely reported in the Mexican press, said he is taken aback by all the attention he has received. He denies he threw rocks at the Border Patrol agents.

“If you believe la migra , you’d think that my friend and I were throwing rocks the size of watermelons at them,” he said. “Well, I wish they had thrown rocks at me instead of shooting me.”

Humberto and Eduardo said they want to take advantage of an offer by a Mexican senator to arrange government scholarships so they can get a university education.

“I want to be an attorney. I want to help people like my mother. Even though she is very poor, she has challenged the American government by suing them,” Humberto said, referring to a $3-million claim filed on his behalf by Los Angeles attorney Marco Lopez against the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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“I know she is going to win because we are in the right,” Humberto said.


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