At least one Mexican gunman fired a high-powered rifle across the border at four U.S. road workers Thursday in an isolated ghost town east of Fort Hancock, Hudspeth County sheriff’s officials said.
The bullets did not injure the four men.
Mike Doyle, chief deputy of the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, said a rancher spotted a white pickup fleeing the area on the Mexican side at 10:30 a.m. — the time the shots were fired.
The bullets stuck private land along the unpaved Indian Hot Springs Road, which is about half a mile from the border fence. Hudspeth County borrowed the land to store gravel and rocks used for road construction. The workers were filling a hole left last year by rainstorm damage.
The ghost town of Fort Quitman is 25 miles east of Fort Hancock and 80 miles southeast of El Paso. Fewer than a dozen ranchers raise cattle in the remote area.
Doyle said the gunman might have shot at the road workers to distract them or get them to flee.
“Maybe they were trying to get them outside this area,” he said.
Doyle said the sheriff and the Texas Rangers at this point are assuming the bullets were fired from Mexico. He said one of the county workers said he heard eight shots that “sounded like high-powered rifles.”
On the Mexican side, the nearest community is Banderas, but there are roads that connect to Ojinaga, right across from Presidio, and also to Juárez.
Two Texas Rangers and Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West and Deputy Doyle later were at the scene looking for the bullets with a metal detector.
Drug cartels use this busy smuggling corridor in between the Quitman Mountains and mountains in the northwestern part of Chihuahua state to traffic marijuana and sometimes cocaine, Doyle said.
The U.S. government built narrowly spaced steel poles north of the Rio Grande to fence the border in that West Texas area. The slots are not wide enough for people to cross, but small objects can fit between the 15-foot-tall poles.
“You can walk up and stick your gun through,” West said. The river where it separates Fort Quitman from Mexico is only a few feet wide.
It is the first time Hudspeth County officials reported gunfire coming from across the border.
In El Paso, stray bullets from a drug-related gunfight hit City Hall in June. Another stray bullet struck a University of Texas at El Paso building in August.
On Falcon Lake, a border area near Laredo, Texas, American tourist David Hartley was reportedly shot by Mexican gunmen in October.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Texas Rangers, referred calls to sheriff’s officials. DPS officials said only that troopers escorted the workers and their equipment away from the scene.
Border Patrol spokesman Bill Brooks said his agents in the Marfa sector responded to the gunfire after DPS alerted them. The agents are not part of the investigation, he said.
Brooks said the agency is not deploying more agents to the area. “There is no beefing up in any way,” he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s spokeswoman Katherine Cesin ger said the governor’s office had yet to confirm the incident.
“If these reports are true, it is yet another incident of border violence and spillover,” Cesinger said. “It goes back for the need for the federal government to provide more resources to the border, which is certainly feeling the effects of the escalating violence in Mexico.”
The shots from across the border angered U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-Texas, who represents the area.
“It is completely unacceptable that Americans at work, doing their job in America, come under gunfire from across the border in Mexico,” Canseco said in a statement. “Our border is not secure from violence that threatens American lives. Securing our border against the cartels and their violent threat must be a top priority.”