Federal officials in Arizona announced that they were seeking four more defendants in the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and that the FBI was offering a $1-million reward to track down the fugitives, believed to be in Mexico.
The revelations came Monday when federal prosecutors unsealed a grand jury indictment in Tucson that accuses a total of five people in the December 2010 shooting. One is in custody. A sixth defendant, also in custody, is charged with conspiracy related to robbery but not with Terry’s death.
Authorities said the six were members of a “rip-off crew” of Mexican bandits preying on illegal drug couriers in a remote canyon just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Terry and his Border Patrol team happened upon them. He was killed in a firefight that began with U.S. agents firing bean bags and ended with the bandits firing semiautomatic weapons, authorities said. Two of their firearms, both AK-47s, were recovered and traced to the federal Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
The four new defendants, all described as Mexican nationals, are said by authorities to have fled that night, leaving the two weapons behind. The weapons’ discovery brought to light Fast and Furious — a secret operation in which hundreds of illegal gun sales were allowed on the border in the hopes that U.S. officials could track them to Mexican drug cartels. Instead, most were lost by agents of the federalBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The announcement about the four fugitives and the sizable reward marks the first time federal officials have released any information about the Terry case. The indictment itself was secretly returned by a federal grand jury in November.
The Terry family said it welcomed the developments.
“It has been a difficult 18 months for the family since Brian Terry was murdered, and today’s announcement provides hope that justice will eventually be served,” said Robert Heyer, chairman of the Brian Terry Foundation and a cousin of the slain agent.
Patrick McGroder, a family attorney, said the family was pleased the prosecution was “going forward,” even though the investigation into how the weapons ended up at the scene remained “stalled.”
“Agent Terry died as a hero protecting this country,” McGroder said. “He and his family rightly deserve a full and thorough explanation of how Operation Fast and Furious came to be.”
Federal authorities said they were hopeful that with the unsealed indictment and the FBI reward, the fugitives would be located and arrested.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., who has been criticized by the Terry family and Republican lawmakers investigating Fast and Furious, said the new developments might bring the family some closure.
He said the Justice Department was committed “to finding and arresting the other individuals responsible for this horrific tragedy so that Agent Terry’s family, friends and fellow law enforcement agents receive the justice they deserve.”
Last month, the Republican-controlled House voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents pertaining to the Fast and Furious investigation.
The fugitives were identified as Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza.
Anyone with information about them is asked to call (623) 466-1999, a local FBI office or a nearby American embassy or consulate.
Arrested and still in custody in the case are Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, charged in the slaying, and Rito Osorio-Arellanes, charged in the robbery.
Separately, three members of a gun-smuggling ring accused of buying the two firearms found after Terry’s death have pleaded guilty to felony weapons charges.