SALT LAKE CITY — The family of U.S. Border Patrol agent from Utah who died in a friendly fire incident last year in southeastern Arizona says there's no way to know who shot first.
Reports shortly after the Oct. 2, 2012, shooting suggested Spanish Fork native Nicholas J. Ivie opened fire first and wounded one of the other agents but was killed in the return fire.
Ron Colburn, a 31-year Border Patrol veteran who retired as the agency's deputy chief, recently wrote a six-page story called "Walk a Mile in His Boots" in an attempt to explain what happened to Ivie. He based his article on discussions with the Border Patrol's critical incident team, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office and the FBI.
"The physical evidence does not indicate who fired first," Colburn wrote, noting that one of the two other agents involved said she didn't know who fired first and the other said Ivie fired first and that he returned fire.
Ivie died from a single gunshot wound to the head, Colburn wrote, citing investigative reports. The second agent was grazed in the ankle and hit in the buttocks.
Colburn's report offers a lengthy narration of the events of that night and concludes with the former agent's opinion that Ivie did nothing wrong, but was a "great agent" and a "humble gentleman who was always faithful to his God, family and country."
Ivie's sister, Andrea Davis, called Colburn's piece "an attempt to correct wrong, inadequate, and lack of information."
One year later, family members hope to emphasize there is no way of knowing who pulled the trigger first that night, and even if Ivie fired the first shot, the public needs to consider the circumstances surrounding his death.
"It doesn't bother us to believe or think that Nick did fire first," said Ivie's brother, Rich. "Without explaining maybe why or what led up to that circumstance does bother us a little bit."
Colburn's report and other information released to the family begins to explain those circumstances, Rich Ivie said.
Joel Ivie, Nick Ivie's brother and fellow Border Patrol agent, listened to radio communications between his brother and the other two agents as they approached the same hill from different sides.
Joel Ivie was asked to review the recordings in order to prepare a presentation for other agents who remained frustrated months later about confusion surrounding the shooting, Rich Ivie said, adding that his brother has not been authorized to speak to the media.
"As (Joel Ivie) was listening to the radio communications, it became very clear what happened. It just kind of went off in his head, like, 'That's exactly what happened. I can see now why things played out the way they did,'" Rich Ivie said.
The recordings revealed a possible miscommunication between Nick Ivie and two other agents that may have led him to believe backup was still 40 minutes away, Rich Ivie said. Actually, they were less than five minutes away.
Because the investigation into events surrounding Ivie's death is ongoing, Colburn's account does not contain some information, Davis said.
New information includes accounts from a Border Patrol agent who said that when the shooting began she witnessed the muzzle flash from a rifle (Ivie was armed with a handgun), saw silhouettes of three or four other people and heard someone speaking in fast, fluent Spanish, Davis said.
Colburn also learned that Mexican pesos, water bottles and other evidence of drugs that were in transport were found near Ivie's body, indicating he may have taken someone into custody prior to the shooting and, per protocol, required them to empty their pockets.
Davis and Rich Ivie emphasized their family's continuing appreciation for the Border Patrol and their hope that future accidents can be prevented.
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