The 1,969-mile-long border between Mexico and the United States includes all kinds of terrain – desert, chaparral, mountain, scrub and forest.
Some of it is friendlier to smugglers, coyotes and never-do-wells than other parts. One of the toughest parts is between the states of Sonora and Arizona a little to the west of Nogales.
One of the stories provides this detail of the terrain west of Nogales in the Coronado National Forest and notes that a new kind of criminal is prowling in the area:
“Peck Canyon lies at the northern end of a 15-to-20-mile series of ravines that run northeast from the U.S.-Mexico border, past Peña Blanca Lake and up to Interstate 19. Set mostly in undeveloped U.S. Forest Service areas, the canyons’ isolation and rugged terrain have long made them popular corridors for human and drug smuggling.
“That activity, in turn, has attracted another type of criminal behavior. So-called border bandits, or ‘bajadores,’ now roam the canyons, sometimes carrying assault rifles and sporting ski masks. They rob drug smugglers of their loads, relieve illegal immigrants of their cash, and sexually assault undocumented women.”
Imagine running into a gang of these guys on a backpacking trip. These are bad hombres, trying to rip off drug smugglers.
Terry was a member of a Border Patrol Tactical Unit, and the group was deployed near Peña Blanca Lake. Back in September in the same area, three or four men opened fire on another Border Patrol Tactical Unit.
The other story is about DHS chief Janet Napolitano, who knows the Arizona border well as a former governor of the state, and her visit to Phoenix last week, where she stopped in at the local newspaper and described what the BP tactical unit was doing at the time Terry was shot and killed.
"They were seeking to apprehend what's called a 'rip crew,' which is a name given to a crew that it is organized to seek to rip off people who are drug mules or traversing the border illegally," she said during a meeting with The Arizona Republic's editorial board. "That's why they were in that area."
Update: The Tucson Weekly has an indepth article about violence in Arizona's Peck Canyon and a chronology of recent incidents with an accompanying map. Click here to read it. Here is an excerpt from their article, citing a local resident Jason Kane:
But on at least four occasions, Kane has heard what he's sure were gunfights involving one fully-automatic weapon firing, and another pumping back return fire. He has also seen ultra-light airplanes swooping over the mountains at night to drop drug loads, and he calls law enforcement often enough to keep the phone numbers of the Border Patrol and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office affixed to the family refrigerator.
Like the Lowells, Kane says he feels generally safe right around his home—although his wife, Clair, does not—but the children aren't allowed to play in the yard unless one parent is watching. Kane added he felt compelled to speak up in spite of possible danger, because the public needs to know, and other Tucson media have shown no interest.
As for venturing beyond his property onto the national forest west and north of his home, Kane won't do it, and he advises hikers and hunters to stay away. "I grew up riding all over this country," says Kane. "I've gone back into places most people will never know about. But I'd never go there again by myself. Only with a group, and only if I was armed. That's flat-out. I mean, this craziness of the border being secure is a joke."