New information suggests the two American Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who were fired upon on a road north of Mexico City were likely unarmed when they came under the fire of a notorious Mexican drug gang Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press confirmed the gunmen know the agents were U.S. law enforcement when they were targeted Tuesday:
Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, who was briefed on the incident as chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, the gunmen opened fire after the agents indentified themselves as U.S. diplomats.
An U.S. law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the gunmen made comments before they fired indicating they knew who their targets were. The official was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
"This was an intentional ambush against two United States federal agents," McCaul said in a statement. "This tragic event is a game changer. The United States will not tolerate acts of violence against its citizens or law enforcement and I believe we must respond forcefully."
Agent Jaime Zapata and his partner came under fire as they drove from Monterrey to Mexico City Tuesday. Zapata was fatally wounded in the incident and died shortly thereafter. His partner was in stable condition Tuesday evening, having sustained multiple gunshots.
According to Rio Grande Valley's KRGV, ICE officials have confirmed that U.S. law enforcement are prohibited from carrying weapons in Mexico:
Zapata was one of about 30 agents assigned to Mexico. The role of ICE agents and officers across the border is to provide case support to their Mexican law enforcement counterparts. They help in drug and sex trafficking cases along with money and human smuggling.
Although this is a dangerous job, the Mexican government does not authorize U.S. law enforcement working in Mexico to carry weapons. They may only carry guns if they are in one of the country's embassies.
In addition, new video shows the casket believed to be carrying agent Zapata as it was loaded into a Mexican hearse before departing for the Valley.
Zapata's death has hit his community especially hard.
"I’m sad. I don’t even know who he is, but I don’t know. I feel this kind of emotion," one resident told KRGV. "I get upset because they [the U.S. government] say that there’s not that much violence here in the Valley and there is."
Another resident, Rey Villarreal, says Zapata's untimely death sends a clear message that the cartels aren't intimidated by the United States. "If they can do it to them, they can do it to anybody," he said. Zapata was a federal officer. He was also one of our own, he added.
Zapata was from Brownsville. He was working for ICE based out of Laredo, Texas. He was reportedly on loan for a special task force. One of Zapata's good friends spoke to Channel 5 and described the slain agent as "an angel."
“He was the kind of guy just to talk, hang around with, cook out. Real down to earth," Rudy de la Rosa said. "He always gave a ‘buenos consejos’ to everyone. A real good friend.”