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Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: THU 10/12/1989Section: APage: 21Edition: 2 STARRafter details shooting that killed husbandBy ROY BRAGGStaff MARFA - Jamie Heffley, bleeding from bullet wounds, soaking wet, shivering in the cold, lay on the banks of the Rio Grande and waited to die. Minutes after her husband was killed by a sniper's bullet to the back, Heffley clawed a hole in the sand, rolled into it and buried herself in leaves. "I felt I was going to die, and I was digging my own grave," Heffley told jurors Wednesday in the murder trial of an 18-year-old man charged with the Nov. 19 killing of Michael Heffley. As she spoke, defendant Eduardo Rodriguez Pineda's face turned sullen. Defense attorneys contend Rodriguez fired in self-defense after the victim shot first. Jurors listened raptly as Heffley, 33, relived the shooting spree that ended the rafting trip through the Rio Grande's Colorado Canyon. The Heffleys and their guide, Jim Burr, had been on the water two hours when the first shots were fired. The trio went ashore. "That's when they let loose," Heffley said. "It was like a rain - a torrent. Ping, ping, ping. Then I heard something like a cannon, like one went by my head." Seconds later, she said, Burr grabbed his thigh in pain. He'd been shot. "Then I knew they were after blood," Heffley testified. "Then I knew we were really in trouble." The three darted from rock to rock, behind brush and into the river for cover. Michael Heffley, 40, and Burr begged for mercy. Her husband thought the camera around his neck was prompting gunfire from assailants who didn't want to be identified from pictures, Heffley said. "It was pitiful," she said, occasionally sobbing. "He showed it to them and threw it away." She said the four gunmen, perched on a rocky cliff 800 feet above the water, laughed. "They were hunting us down like animals." The gunmen seemed to be concentrating on her, she said, because every time she moved, they fired. She removed a red jacket and yellow life vest. The shots continued as the trio ran until they reached a dead end at a cliff. Heffley said she balked at the suggestion of swimming around the wall. "He (her husband) said I had to," she testified. "He said, `I want us to die together.' I said, `I do, too."' As they swam, she was shot in the hip, pushing her against the cliff. Her husband pulled her ashore and examined her wound. "He looked up and screamed," she said. "He just screamed, `Oh, God, no."' The gunfire stopped. Her husband - frustrated at his helplessness - bowed his head and wept, she said. A single gunshot rolled through the canyon. "It hit him in the back," Heffley testified. "It threw me hard to the side. The force of it picked him up three to four feet off the ground." Her husband fell backward to the ground. "It was the end. He knew it. "I said, `Are you dying?' He said: `Well, I'm paralyzed, I know that. Yeah, baby. I'm dying.' "I started crying. I said, `I love you.' He said, `I love you, too.' Heffley stayed in the brush, afraid even to look at her husband. She never heard his voice again. Burr, who already had gone for help, was picked up by rescuers the next morning. Heffley waited 20 hours through the day and night in the brush. Much of that time, she said, she didn't realize she also had been shot in the arm. "I didn't move," she said. "I prayed all night long. I sang some hymns from church. I prayed God would be be with me through the night because that was the only protection I had." At one point, she heard strange voices - apparently members of a search party that set out to look for Burr and the Heffleys. Heffley said she didn't reveal herself because she didn't recognize the voices. Later, she and her husband's body were spotted by federal agents in helicopters. She was taken to Alpine for treatment. The trial recessed at noon Wednesday, with state District Judge Alex Gonzalez ordering a daylong continuance while prosecutors go to Mexico to escort a 16-year-old suspect to Texas to testify when the trial resumes Friday.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: MON 11/21/1988Section: APage: 1Edition: 3 STAR1 slain, 2 hurt as snipers fire on river raftAssociated Press BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK - Snipers, firing from Mexican cliffs in a remote area along the Rio Grande, fatally shot a Texas man and wounded his wife and a river guide, authorities said. Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin, said Texas, U.S. and Mexican authorities searched Sunday for at least two people who opened fire about noon Saturday on the couple and the guide as they traveled down the river on a raft. The couple was identified as Michael W. Heffley, 40, and his wife, Jamie, 32, of Eastland, about 60 miles east of Abilene. Heffley suffered a fatal gunshot wound in the back as he was aiding his wife, who had been shot in the left side and in the left shoulder, Cox said. The injured were flown by helicopter to Brewster Memorial Hospital in Alpine, about 80 miles away, where night supervisor Joyce Rutledge said late Sunday that the two were in stable condition. The wounds were described as not life-threatening. "They were in an area of high bluffs on the river. The woman said she remembered seeing some smoke coming from the high bluff on the Mexican side of the river ... and that moments later, shots were fired and bullets hit on either side of their raft," Cox said. "The woman says it was a nightmare. There was no provocation or anything. It was just an attack," Cox said. "They were just a married couple who were tourists in the area. The woman believed at least two people were on the bluff. The guide said he saw four." The attack occurred in what is known as Colorado Canyon on the American side of the river in an area about 30 miles east of Presidio. U.S. officials contacted Mexican authorities and flew with them to the Mexican side of the river, where 12 empty shell casings were found, Cox said. Cox said the area where the shells were found is in a remote desert area reachable only by boat or helicopter and once notorious for its marijuana cultivation. Cox said it was the second time this year that American tourists in the area have reported being shot at from Mexican bluffs. Officials believe between 20 and 30 shots were fired, Cox said. Some of the shell casings were 30-30 caliber, which could have been fired only from a rifle, he said. Others were .44-caliber Magnum and .22-caliber, which could have been fired either from a pistol or a rifle, he said. U.S. Border Patrol and Customs helicopters - dispatched early Sunday after the party failed to show up at a pickup point Saturday night - spotted the man's body near the river shortly after daybreak, Cox said. After the helicopters landed, the woman came out of brush where she had been hiding since the attack, Cox added. Temperatures got down to 30 degrees overnight at nearby Lajitas. Burr, despite his wound, walked through heavy brush to Texas Highway 170, near Lajitas, where he was spotted by a rancher about 8 a.m., officials added. Burr, a guide for the Lajitas-based Far Flung Adventures, led the raft about two miles downriver from a remote camp area when the shooting began about noon Saturday. The first of the shots were fired while the three were on a raft in the river, Cox said. Burr was the first to be shot, but managed to get the raft to shore, Cox said. But the snipers continued their attack, and the couple and guide got back into the raft, Cox said. "He (Burr) thought he could get to a better point of safety, so they got back in the raft and, hugging closely on the shore, (continued) to get on down the river," Cox said. As the shots continued, the trio pulled ashore again to seek shelter in the brush. As they were getting out of the raft, the woman was shot, Cox said. As her husband tried to help her to safety, he was shot and died within moments, Cox said. "The woman then was able to crawl to some brush and hide to prevent being shot again," Cox said. "The guide made it to brush and hid until the sun went down." When the raft failed to arrive at a pickup point by Saturday night, officials of Far Flung Adventures sent another raft to look for the party about 9:30 p.m. The rescue crew found the raft and some equipment, which had numerous bullet holes in it. When they could find no one around, they left immediately and contacted the Brewster County sheriff's office at Alpine, and a search began.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: WED 11/23/1988Section: APage: 13Edition: 2 STARCampers fill Big Bend despite sniper attackBy ROY BRAGG, DEBORAH TEDFORD, ALLAN TURNERStaff, Associated Press Chronicle reporter Allan Turner and The Associated Presscontributed to this report.Hundreds of campers and day-trippers rolled into Big Bend National Park Tuesday for the last big holiday of the camping season, apparently undaunted by a sniper attack on a group of Rio Grande rafters that left one dead and two injured. The Thanksgiving holidays routinely see the sprawling national park in far Southwest Texas jammed with campers, hikers and sightseers. "We're normally filled to the maximum," Ranger Harry Robbins said Tuesday night. Robbins said approximately 800 people registered Tuesday at the main visitor center. The park has two other visitor centers, he noted. "Several people expressed concern about the shootings," he said, "but that was out of hundreds of people. First of all, I point out that this happened in Presidio County, 40 miles from the park. We haven't had anything like that happen in the park in recent history, and we don't anticipate anything like that happening." Park Ranger Bob Rothe, however, allowed: "I think a reasonable and prudent person might have some apprehensions. I feel those apprehensions are unfounded. I know of no other incident that would indicate some kind of pattern." Rothe predicted that fewer people will run the river in rafts during the holiday. "I expect we'll get more people in the park," he said. "All those who had planned to raft Colorado Canyon (site of the shootings) will probably come here instead." Michael Heffley, 40, of Eastland was fatally wounded about noon Saturday when snipers opened fire on a raft he occupied with his wife, Jamie, 32, and tour guide Jim Burr, 36. Burr, an employee of Terlingua-based Far Flung Adventures, was shot first, suffering a wound in his leg. Mrs. Heffley was hit next, suffering wounds in her left shoulder and side. Heffley was killed as he attempted to protect his wife from further injury. At least 15 rounds were fired from rifles and pistols from the 300-foot cliffs on the Mexican side of the river. Although the area is known for marijuana growing and smuggling, Mexico and Texas authorities contend that such problems no longer exist. Mrs. Heffley Tuesday was transferred at her family's request from Brewster Memorial Hospital in Alpine to an undisclosed facility. A memorial service for her husband was to be held later this week in Eastland. Burr remained in the Alpine hospital Tuesday, but planned to speak to reporters today. After the sniping attack, Burr and Mrs. Heffley cowered in the heavy brush along the Mexican border until nightfall. Burr then trekked across a hill to FM 170 and flagged down a passing farmer. Mrs. Heffley remained in the brush, braving near-freezing temperatures, until morning, when she was located by rescue helicopters. "She's doing fantastic," said Heffley family pastor the Rev. Ed Gresham. "Her spirit is holding up." Gresham, minister of the Harmony Baptist Church in Eastland, said Mrs. Heffley's family had her transferred from the Alpine hospital to shelter her from reporters. Heffley was co-owner of Big State X-ray, a company that made radiographs of oil field pipelines. The motive for the shooting remains a mystery. Most area residents believe the assailants were rowdies who got out of hand. "It's a river that divides two nations, and just like everywhere, there's hoods and good people on either side," said Ecce Iei Mendoza, the Mexican consul in Presidio. "There is nothing to indicate it could have been something planned," the consul added. "It could have been just anyone - someone drinking and trying his rifle to see if he can hit something that's moving." But the snipers' accuracy seems to contradict the theory that they were under the influence of a drug, and both survivors reported that the assailants, walking on the canyon rim, stalked the victims as they walked and floated downriver. U.S. and Mexican authorities took a helicopter to the snipers' cliff-top vantage point. There was no word late in the day whether the four Mexican state judicial police, three trackers from Ojinaga, Mexico, and at least one Presidio County sheriff's deputy had found anything, said Fernando Lozano, commander of the Chihuahua state police in Ojinaga.
Date: TUE 11/29/1988Section: APage: 13Edition: 2 STARSniper attack fails to deter park touristsBy ROY BRAGGStaff Tourists flocked to the remote camping sites of the Big Bend region and rafted the Rio Grande during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, seemingly unconcerned with the still-unsolved Nov. 19 sniper attack that left one rafter dead, park and tourist officials said Monday. Steve Harris, co-owner of Far Flung Adventures, the Terlingua-based company that employed one of the victims, said the Colorado Canyon tragedy may actually attract some business to the river. "There are some who like the risk involved, for whatever reason," he said. "It beats me, but one businessman here said they had someone book a trip, and these people specified that they wanted to go through Colorado Canyon." For Harris, Thanksgiving weekend business was 10 percent under last year's level. Other businesses reported a similar - but not catastrophic - drop in tourism spending. "In the short term, there will be some effects, but mostly it'll be negligible," he said. "The same is true for the long term, except that it will probably scare off out-of-state people who only know us for this incident." At the Big Bend National Park, located 40 miles downstream from the site of the shooting, Park Ranger Bob Rothe said 250 boats were launched into the river, up from last year's totals. Total visitation figures from the entire park haven't been compiled yet, but at the Panther Junction camping area, there were only 7,429 visitors, compared to 7,848 last year. But park personnel reported that most other camping areas were full or near capacity. "We had a tremendous surge of visitors," Rothe said. "It was the same as any other Thanksgiving, a number that's always high." Texas authorities, meanwhile, say they've heard no word from Mexican police searching for the gunmen involved with the river incident. Michael Heffley, 40, an oil field service company salesman, died from a single gunshot wound to the back as he tried to shield his wife Jamie, 32, from the unprovoked sniper attack. Mrs. Heffley was shot in the left shoulder and left side, while guide Jim Burr, 36, suffered a wound to the hip. Mrs. Heffley and Burr said they were rafting down the Rio Grande, through an area known as Colorado Canyon, when the 90-minute fusillade began. The attack occurred around noon. The survivors waded ashore and waited in riverside brush until sunset, when Burr went for help. The helicopter pilots who spotted Heffley's body rescued his wife the next morning. Burr flagged down help on a nearby highway at about the same time. Mrs. Heffley was released from Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene during the weekend, said Jo Thompson, a hospital spokeswoman. She couldn't be reached for comment. Harris said his employee, Burr, was released from Brewster Memorial Hospital Friday and was in good shape. "They tell me he was dancing last (Sunday) night," a laughing Harris said Monday. "Maybe it was a one-legged jig. But I think he's doing OK now." Harris and Rothe said the prospect of the gunmen still at large may be unsettling to many. "Until these shooters are apprehended, it's going to be a cause of a lot of anxiety for people going through or near Colorado Canyon," Rothe said. Harris agreed, saying that despite the effect adverse publicity might have on future bookings, he wants the story to stay in the news. "This story ain't wrapped up yet," said Harris. "I don't want this to fade away. The green light is still up, and there are people over there who think they can shoot rafters and get away with it. I don't want anyone thinking it's open season on rafters." Harris said the possibility of his employees packing firearms on future raft trips has been discussed, but no decision on the matter has been made.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: WED 11/30/1988Section: APage: 1Edition: 2 STARTwo youths arrested in raft attackBy ROY BRAGGStaff Two people have been arrested in connection with a brutal 90-minute rifle assault that killed one person and wounded two others as the trio rafted down the Rio Grande's Colorado Canyon about 40 miles from Big Bend National Park 10 days ago. Steve Bailey, chief deputy sheriff of Presidio County, said Mexican police Tuesday apprehended a juvenile, while Texas authorities arrested a 17-year-old Mexican resident alien at his parent's home six miles east of Redford, a tiny town on the Rio Grande between Presidio and Lajitas. Bailey said two other suspects - possibly juveniles - were being sought in Mexico. He said more than 50 federal, state and local authorities, acting on a tip developed by police on both sides of the border, descended on the Redford home at about 8:30 a.m., seizing four rifles and a cash box containing a large amount of money. Bailey would not disclose the amount of money found. Three of the rifles - a .30-30, a .44-caliber Magnum and a .22-caliber - were believed used in the Nov. 19 river raft attack, Bailey said, because shell casings matching those types of weapons were found on the river bank where the snipers stood. He said the fourth - a 7mm Magnum - was reported stolen during a recent burglary in Kermit, approximately 175 miles north of Redford in Winkler County. Chihuahua state judicial police arrested the juvenile at about 9:30 a.m. in the Mexican village of El Mulato. The juvenile, whose identity was being withheld because of his age, was in jail in Ojinaga, the Mexican twin city of Presidio. Mexican authorities also confiscated weapons in their arrest, but Bailey could not say whether they were used in the attack. Bailey identified the Redford suspect as Edvardo Pineda Rodriguez, who has been charged with murder and assault and is in the Presidio County Jail in Marfa in lieu of $50,000 bond. "He gave us no resistance," Bailey said. "I don't believe his parents knew he was involved with this, at this time. "As far as we can tell, it was just a senseless homicide." He said the case would be taken to a regularly scheduled Presidio County grand jury today. Both suspects were charged with murder in the killing of Michael Heffley, 40, an oil field service company salesman, who died from a single gunshot wound to the back as he tried to shield his wife, Jamie, 32, from the unprovoked attack. Bailey said Rodriguez also was charged with assault in the shooting of Mrs. Heffley, who was wounded in the left shoulder and left side, and guide Jim Burr, 36, who was shot in the hip. The attack occurred around noon Nov. 19. The survivors waded ashore and waited in riverside brush until sunset, when Burr went for help. Helicopter pilots spotted Heffley's body the next morning, landing their craft near the attack site and rescuing Mrs. Heffley. Burr flagged down help on a nearby highway about the same time. Mrs. Heffley, who was released from Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene during the weekend, said she would not be satisfied until her husband's killers are brought to justice. "Good, great," Mrs. Heffley said when told of the arrest. "But the thing that concerns me is that they need to make an example of them to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else again. I just want these people brought to justice. I believe they should be executed. "This thing will continue to happen if they're not. Nothing will bring my husband back. Whatever happens... it's not enough." Burr, released Friday from Brewster Memorial Hospital in Alpine, could not be reached for comment. But his employer, Steve Harris, co-owner of Far Flung Adventures, the Terlingua-based raft company, said, "We're obviously relieved. This will certainly help us out a lot. The safety of our customers is what we're most concerned about." In an interview from her hospital bed in Abilene on Thanksgiving Eve, Mrs. Heffley told a chilling account of the sniper attack and credited her husband with saving her life. During the assault, she said her husband and Burr decided the trio could reach safety by moving up the river's steep banks. "I said I'm weak, I can't do it. He (husband Michael) said, `Don't worry, I'll help you."' "He grabbed me and threw me up on the bank, and then they shot him in the back. And that's where he fell. "He threw me out of the way, out of the line of fire. So he took the bullet. "I went up into this bramble bush to hide," she said. "I covered myself up with about three or four inches of sod, and sticks and stones and just anything I could find to camouflage myself." "I sat there in that one place, for what seemed like an eternity."
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: THU 12/01/1988Section: APage: 1Edition: 2 STARThird teen held in raft attack as police hunt fourth suspectBy ROY BRAGG, JO ANN ZUNIGAStaff A third teen-ager has been arrested in connection with the Nov. 19 sniper murder of a Rio Grande rafter and the wounding of his two companions, an attack that authorities say may have begun after one of the gunmen screamed, "Let's shoot at the gringos." A two-nation manhunt, which Tuesday resulted in two arrests, continued for the 18-year-old fourth gunman who police believe sat atop a Colorado Canyon bluff with his three accomplices and opened fire on rafters Mike and Jamie Heffley and guide Jim Burr. Mike Heffley, 40, was killed by a single sniper bullet in the back as he tried to shield his 32-year-old wife from shots fired during the 90-minute rifle assault. She was shot in the left shoulder and side while Burr, 36, was shot in the hip. Burr and Mrs. Heffley were rescued the next day. Both were hospitalized several days after the ordeal. Steve Bailey, chief deputy sheriff of Presidio County, said Mexican police early Wednesday arrested the third suspect in El Mulato. The 17-year-old was being held in jail in Ojinaga, the Mexican twin city of Presidio. Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson in Alpine said authorities were helped in their investigation by the third suspect's father, a Mexican national who crosses the border daily to work as a ranch hand at the Big Bend Ranch, a new state park adjacent to the Big Bend National Park. "He (the father) told us his son was probably hiding in the brush on the other (Mexican) side," Jackson said. "He said he was going over to get the boy to turn himself in." Authorities Wednesday also revealed more details about the actual shooting and the earlier arrests. Edvardo Pineda Rodriguez, 17, of Redford, remained in the Presidio County jail in Marfa late Wednesday in lieu of $50,000 bond. He was charged with murder and assault. Another Mexican juvenile remained in the Ojinaga jail. The 16-year-old also was arrested in Mulato. Jackson said the 16-year-old told Mexican authorities that the four were simply firing their guns randomly in the canyon minutes before the attack. "The one (suspect) in Mexico says this boy we got (Rodriguez) was the one that hollered, `Let's shoot at the gringos,"' Jackson said. But, Jackson said, Rodriguez has denied involvement, saying the group was hunting rabbits. Authorities had planned to present the Rodriguez case to the new Presidio County grand jury Wednesday, said Assistant District Attorney Dan Newsom, but the session was postponed because of a scheduling conflict with state District Judge Alex R. Gonzalez. Gonzalez, whose 19,476-square-mile district is the state's largest with Brewster, Jeff Davis, Pecos, Reagan, Upton and Presidio counties, was presiding over a felony trial in another jurisdiction and couldn't be in Marfa to swear in the grand jurors, Newsom said. He said the case would be aired before a future grand jury. Jackson, meanwhile, said the key break in the case came three days ago when Mexican state police heard a tip that the four gunmen were staying in a pair of houses on the American side of the border. "They were seen there Monday afternoon," Jackson said. "All of them." Border Patrol agents flew to Pecos in a Department of Public Safety helicopter and obtained a search warrant based on grounds that illegal aliens were being housed in the two homes. More than 50 state, local and federal agents then descended on the houses in Redford shortly after 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jackson said. Nothing was found in the first house. Rodriguez, living with his parents in the second house a few hundred yards away, was found with four rifles and a cash box containing $3,100. Three of the rifles - a .30-30-caliber, a .22-caliber and .44-caliber Magnum - match the types of shell casings found at the attack site. The fourth weapon, a 7mm Magnum, was stolen from the gun case of a Kermit home in September, 1987, said Kermit Police Chief David Norwood. However, the chief said, Rodriguez is not a suspect in that case. Rodriguez and the 16-year-old in Mexico told authorities the 7mm rifle and cash belonged to another person. Rodriguez's mother, 50-year-old Juana Rodriguez, vouched for her son's story in a telephone interview with the Chronicle Wednesday. She said the guns were being kept by her son for friends, and the cash was being held for a Dallas man who owns cattle and a nearby ranch where her son often works. "We were just holding the money for safekeeping," she said. "My son takes care of his cattle sometimes. "We don't have that type of money. We're poor." Jackson said the individual, who isn't charged in the raft shooting case, is a suspected local narcotics trafficker. Mrs. Rodriguez said she didn't know if her son was involved in the drug trade or the shooting. American officials will prosecute Rodriguez, but it's up to Mexican officials to try the other two already in custody, Jackson said, because the United States has no extradition treaty with Mexico.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: SAT 12/03/1988Section: APage: 26Edition: 3 STAR4th suspect arrested in raft attackBy ROY BRAGGStaff Police in Chihuahua City, Mexico, arrested a fourth and final teen-ager Friday in the fatal shooting of a Rio Grande rafter. Maurelio Montoya Rodriguez, 18, of El Mulato, Mexico, was charged with murder, said Raul Garcia, agent with the Chihuahua state judicial police in Ojinaga. All four have been charged in connection with the death of Michael Heffley, 40, of Eastland. Police have said the four shot at Heffley, his wife Jamie, 32, and guide Jim Burr, 36, on a whim. Garcia said Rodriguez's father brought him in to surrender. The three American rafters were drifting through Colorado Canyon about 11 a.m. Nov. 19 when four snipers opened fire on them. The snipers, standing on the rim of the Mexican side of the 300-foot-high canyon, shot at the victims for more than an hour. Heffley died of a gunshot wound in the back as he sought to shield his wife, who been shot in the left side and in the left shoulder. Burr was wounded in the right thigh. All three victims were shot on the U.S. side of the river. Earlier, one of the suspects told police that Eduardo Rodriguez Pineda, 17, a legal resident alien from Redford, Texas, had initiated the attack by hollering, "Let's shoot at the gringos." In addition to Rodriguez, Mexican police have charged Julio Cesar Hernandez Valenzuela, 16, and Alfredo Hernandez Bejarano, 16, both of El Mulato, with murder with a deadly weapon and illegal importation of firearms, said Juan Mayorga, state judicial police commander. Pineda is charged with murder and aggravated assault is being held in the Presidio County Jail in Marfa in lieu of $150,000 bond. Mayorga said the three suspects have implicated Maurelio Rodriguez as the one who shot Heffley.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: SAT 04/01/1989Section: APage: 29Edition: 2 STARMexican teen claims he fired at rafters in self-defenseBy ROY BRAGG, Houston Chronicle Austin BureauStaff A 15-year-old boy, questioned by Mexican police Friday in connection with an Easter week attack on three Americans rafting the Rio Grande, claims he fired in self-defense. The youth - arrested late Thursday by Coahuila state judicial police and being held Friday in Ciudad Acuna - told officials he returned fire after the tourists shot at him, said Hugh Rushton, Marfa sector chief for the U.S. Border Patrol. The teen had made the same allegations to national park officials, but rafters Jim Gentry and Ben Saage II scoffed at the teen's claims. "If you're in the middle of a river in a boat, in an open position with a pistol, you'd have to be pretty stupid to fire at somebody that's got a rifle and rocks for cover," said Gentry, 29, a Houston accountant. Added Saage, 29, a special education teacher from Alpine: "All we did was wave at him." No one was hurt in the March 22 shoot-out, which occurred in the remote San Vicente Canyon, located on the eastern edge of the Big Bend National Park in far southwestern Texas. Some details about the investigation are still sketchy. Saage said there was a second, hidden gunman involved. And Roy Given, a National Park ranger, said Mexican police are continuing the search for a second suspect. But Jerry Goodman, a Border Patrol agent who spoke with Mexican officials Friday, said there was no such search under way. Arraignment on unspecified criminal charges against the teen-ager in custody was pending late Friday. Goodman, who routinely deals with Mexican officials, said criminal law there allows up to six months for initial processing of a case. The boy, whose name was not released by Mexican authorities, originally was identified by a team of Mexican police that fanned across Coahuila immediately after the shooting, said Phil Koepp, chief law enforcement ranger at the 800,000-acre park. Residents there identified the suspects as goat herders who worked on the rim above the canyon, Koepp said. Police late Wednesday tracked the youth to his home town of Piedritas, about 25 miles south of the site of the shooting, Koepp said. Goodman said family members there told police the boy's father had taken the youth to Muzquiz, another 65 miles south. The youth was arrested at a relative's home late Thursday. The three rafters - Gentry, Saage and Russ Alexander, a 30-year-old chemist from Waco - told police they were floating down the river at 4 p.m. when they saw someone standing on the Mexican side of the river. "I waved at him, and he began walking down river in our direction," Sagge said Friday. "Then he pulled out his rifle and began firing. There was no provocation." Goodman tended to agree with the rafters. "Why would you hide your gun and abandon your flock - something a shepherd would never do - if you didn't have something to hide?" he asked. The youth told authorities he would show them where he hid the rifle used in the assault, Goodman said. The shooting incident was the second involving Rio Grande rafters in less than six months. An Eastland man was killed and his wife and their guide were seriously injured in a shooting last November in the Colorado Canyon, 100 miles upstream from the latest incident. Three Mexican juveniles and Eduardo Pineda Rodriguez, a 17-year-old resident alien living in the border village of Redford, have been charged in connection with Michael Heffley's death. Rodriguez's trial is set for July.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: SUN 10/15/1989Section: StatePage: 1Edition: 2 STARLawmen in today's Wild West/Presidio County deals tough handBy ROY BRAGGStaff MARFA - When snipers in the Colorado Canyon cut Mike Heffley down in a rain of gunfire, there were no passers-by to witness the attack - only 50 miles of Chihuahuan desert and canyon to swallow up the noise. When Heffley's wife, Jamie, and river guide Jim Burr, both wounded in last November's assault, hid along the banks of the Rio Grande, there were no passing squad cars to flag down. Twenty hours elapsed before a search party found them. The 5,000 square miles that make Presidio County the state's fourth largest are also among Texas' most rugged. And with only 6,000 residents, it's one of Texas' most sparsely populated. Enforcing the law falls to a force of four men - Sheriff Rich Thompson and his three deputies. Thompson and a deputy are stationed in Marfa, the 2,000-resident county seat. Two other deputies are in the sleepy border town of Presidio, which has another 2,000 residents and is 50 miles south of here. "When they call out the law in force in Marfa, I'm it," Chief Deputy Steve Bailey said. There are other agencies here, such as the federal Border Patrol, Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as two state highway patrol troopers and two state game wardens. They help in major emergencies, like the Heffley murder, but only as support personnel. And they generally are kept too busy with their own duties. Neither city has a police force. Presidio last had a town marshal in 1985 and Marfa's officers quit two months ago. That means the burden for law and order in the communities and the land between rests with Thompson and his men. Manhunts take them across the back country, where horseback pursuit or helicopter searches are required. It can be a deadly job. Two of the last five Presidio County sheriffs have been killed in the line of duty, including Thompson's predecessor. Sheriff Ottis W. "Blackie" Morrow, 43, was killed March 12, 1950, with his own gun by an illegal alien he had stopped alongside the Marfa-Presidio highway. The gunman, former Mexican policeman Jose Villalobos, fled to Mexico, where he was arrested. He never came to trial in the United States. Morrow, in his second term, died as he tried to drive back to town for help. E.D. Hank Hamilton, a former El Paso policeman, had been sheriff only three months when he was gunned down by George Duckworth on a ranch road six miles from here on April 27, 1973. Duckworth opened fire with a pistol on Hamilton and Deputy William Massey as he sat in his parked car and they walked alongside. Massey was shot once and survived, but Hamilton was hit five times. Duckworth was sentenced to life in prison and died there of cancer in 1983, Thompson said. Thompson, a former Border Patrol officer appointed to replace Hamilton, said he doesn't think about the dangers of answering calls alone. "You just go do your job," said Thompson, 43, a towering man with silver hair who wears a white cowboy hat on duty. "That's just the way it goes." Adds Bailey: "It's kind of frustrating at times to be the only one out there." But the county doesn't have the money to hire more officers, said County Judge Bobby Martinez. The land here is beautiful, but it's also among the most worthless for tax purposes, Martinez said - mountains, scrub and desert. The assessed value of the entire county is $132 million. A tax rate of 35.7 cents per $100 valuation and revenue from traffic tickets, fees and fines give Commissioners Court $1.27 million to work with. Thompson gets $200,000 a year for his department's operations. Deputies earn under $17,000 a year. The rest is for jail upkeep and the few pieces of equipment the department owns. With that, they try to keep the peace. "I feel a lot more like a cop than any cop in the big city," Bailey said. In large towns, when a patrolman sees a broken window at a store, he calls for backup officers. When they arrive, the crime scene is surveyed. If there's a burglary, detectives are called to investigate. As in other small counties, officers here do it all. "If we catch something out here, we do everything from one end to another," Bailey said during a coffee break at the local Dairy Queen. "I'm a patrolman at night, chief deputy by day. I answer calls. I work traffic. "I work suicides. I work narcotics. I work murders. I work everything. "I work cows loose on the road." As he spoke, an elderly man approached and asked why the Customs Service radar balloon hovering outside of town didn't have aviation lights on its moorings. Then, as Bailey was finishing his break, the restaurant phone rang - a resident wanted to file a criminal complaint. Bailey returned to the office. "A great part of this job is that we know the people," Thompson said. "All of the people. And they know me and my men." Because it's a small county population-wise, citizens tend to notice odd occurrences and strangers in town. "We've got eyes all over the county," Bailey said. "The window at the old Safeway store has been broken for six months. I bet I get calls about it twice a week." The border, where Heffley died, represents Thompson's biggest headaches. "Our most difficult task is working on the river, and the easy access to it for criminals to flee to Mexico," Thompson said. "It's not an easy place to patrol. "The river can be such a deadly place, but it's beautiful too." He paused. "It's not such a bad place to die." For Thompson, the dangers of border law enforcement are worth facing. "I don't think there's any place to work other than a rural, West Texas county along the river," he said. "It's a good life. We work for the people. I'm their sheriff and we do it for them."
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: WED 10/11/1989Section: APage: 17Edition: 2 STARBig Bend sniper suspect claims victim fired firstBy ROY BRAGGStaff MARFA - A teen-ager charged in the murder of a Rio Grande rafter admitted the killing but said the victim shot first, according to a 1988 statement read in court Tuesday. The admission, however, contradicts an earlier statement in which 18, denied firing the shot that struck down Michael Heffley, 40, last Nov. 19. Border Patrol Agent David Castaneda, testifying in the second day of Rodriguez's murder trial, said he took the first statement last Nov. 29 and the second statement a day later. Rodriguez's first statement also mentions that another male member of the river party - presumably guide Jim Burr - took the gun when Heffley was shot dead. No mention is made of the gun's removal in the second statement. But the description of a gun-wielding Heffley is consistent in both statements, part of defense contentions that Rodriguez fired in self-defense. District Attorney Richard Barajas maintains Heffley, his wife, Jamie, and Burr were on a recreational trip down the river when Rodriguez and three other youths opened fire on the unarmed tourists from bluffs on the Mexican side of Colorado Canyon. Defense attorneys Mike Rodgers and Pablo Alvarado on Tuesday continued to question officers about Rodriguez's arrest and interrogation. Border Patrol Agent Wayne Wiemers told jurors that he received a confidential informant's tip last Nov. 28 that five aliens had entered the United States recently and that they might have been involved with the Colorado Canyon shooting. Agents got a federal search warrant for illegal aliens and, with more than three dozen lawmen in tow, raided the Rodriguez's parents' home and a neighbor's home in Redford Nov. 29, Wiemers said. Alvarado suggested illegal border entry was a pretext to get a search warrant in a murder case that couldn't have been obtained because of shaky evidence. "You did all of this, even though your search warrant is for five kids who may have crossed the border illegally?" he asked sarcastically. Rodriguez - referred to by Alvarado as a "little boy" - was arrested, given self-incrimination warnings at least a dozen times and still agreed to tell his version to authorities, Castaneda said. In the first statement, which Castaneda translated from Spanish, Rodriguez said he and his brother, Juan, went to El Mulato, Mexico, to look for another sibling who had been drinking and gotten in trouble with local authorities. He met his friends "El Quelo," and "El Cuevas" and they decided to go hunting. "El Quelo" had a 30-30 rifle and "El Cuevas" had a .22-caliber rifle, according to the statement. Rodriguez said he went to his uncle's house and got a .22-caliber rifle. The three went on horseback - Rodriguez rode a borrowed mule - to an area known as El Tapado Canyon. They began shooting at a rabbit, according to the statement, and saw the "gringos" on the raft approaching. The rafters abruptly veered to the banks and abandoned the craft, Rodriguez said. "They hid behind the rocks and one of the gringos, the one who was wearing kind of tan or brown pants and shirt, shot at us with a pistol," he said. The youths hid behind rocks. "Why are they shooting us?" he quoted El Quelo as saying. "They have no right to do that. Let's shoot at them." The other two opened fire and Rodriguez joined in as the rafters sought cover behind rocks and brush and in the water. "As they were running, the one with the brown pants and shirt got hit," he said. "He went down and the other two hid in some rocks near him. One of the gringos reached over to the one that had been shot and removed his belt and pistol and he started shooting us." The youths then fled back to Mulato and left their weapons there. Rodriguez, according to the statement, went back to Redford. In the second statement Rodriguez admitted the crime: Castaneda asked: "You were the one who shot the man as he came out of the water?" Rodriguez: "Yes." Castaneda: "Where did you hit the man?" Rodriguez: "In the back. Castaneda: "What was the caliber of the weapon you shot him with?" Rodriguez: "With the .44 Magnum." Russell Johnson, a Department of Public Safety ballistics expert, testified shell casings found near the shooting site match a gun found at Rogriguez's home after the first Border Patrol raid. Defense attorney Rodgers, in cross examination, suggested parts of Rodriguez's second statement were coached by authorities. And until late December, he said, deputies here were convinced Heffley died of a shot from the 30-30 rifle.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: SUN 12/04/1988Section: CPage: 6Edition: 4 STARLost mule shoe leads police to suspects in river shootingsAssociated Press EL MULANTO, Mexico - Authorities say snipers who killed a Texas man and injured two others as they rafted down the Rio Grande were tripped up because they didn't cover their tracks - literally. Mexican police say they tracked four teen-agers accused of killing Michael Heffley and wounding his wife, Jamie, and their guide, Jim Burr, on Nov. 19 in the picturesque and normally serene Colorado Canyon because of a thrown mule shoe. The killers had rained down a hail of bullets on the three Texans atop a Canyon rim on the Mexican side of the border. There, authorities say, came the break that led to four arrests. "When they were going out, one of the mounts lost a shoe, and it was a horseshoe made in the United States with a certain mark," said Loreto Quezada, a Chihuahua state police officer. The mule shoe led them to Eduardo Pineda, 17, and three of this friends. "We knew it came from a mule. Eduardo's father wouldn't let us inspect his mules. He kept saying they were somewhere else. No one informed on them," Quezada told the Dallas Times Herald. A sworn statement taken by Mexican police from one of the suspects, 15-year-old Julio Cesar Hernandez Valenzuela, explains how the four had gone deer hunting and later began shooting at a hawk before noticing three people rafting below. "So we went over by Eduardo. He said, without knowing if they were Mexicans or Americans, `Let's shoot at the people,"' the youth, who is illiterate, told police. The disclosure of the statement to the newspaper helps explain what was formerly a mysterious incident that people attributed to a variety of possible motives, including drug dealings and drunken cowboys. "The first to shoot was Eduardo, with a .44-caliber (Magnum) rifle. Next was Maurilio Montoya Rodriguez with a .30-.30, later Alfredo Hernandez Bejarano with a .22 (-caliber) semiautomatic, and then I fired eight shots from a .22 semiautomatic rifle," Valenzuela said in his statement of Nov. 29.. In the statement Julio gave to the Chihuahua state police Nov. 29, each of his teen-age chums has an alias: Alfredo, 15, is El Quelo (a nonsensical nickname), Eduardo is El Cuatro (the fourth), and Maurilio, 17, has two, El Cuevas (the caves) and Valerio (a proper name). All are now in police custody, with Eduardo being held on murder charges in Marfa, and Julio, Maurilio and Alfredo held in the state penitentiary in Chihuahua. Julio told police he quit shooting after the initial ambush but said his friends pursued the rafters downstream. The parents of Eduardo Rodriguez had little to say about the incident, according to the Times Herald. "He went hunting. That's all we know. We didn't know a thing until the police came," said the suspect's mother, Juana Rodriguez. His father, Eduardo Rodriguez Sr., who tends cattle and guides hunters, was away when the canyon shooting occurred. "I went with him and the police to Presidio (Texas) after they arrested him, and he told me that the gringos shot first," said Rodriguez. According to investigators, Eduardo initially denied that a .44-caliber Magnum weapon - the murder weapon - had been involved, claiming that he had been shooting only a .22-caliber rifle.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLEDate: SUN 04/02/1989Section: StatePage: 1Edition: 2 STARRiver rafters seem unfazed by shootings/Bad country/Big Bend sniper attacks add violent chapter to region's rough reputationBy ROY BRAGGStaff BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK - To get an idea how rough and rugged this corner of Texas is, glance into Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson's Caprice Classic patrol car. There's a pair of spurs hanging from the emergency brake lever, to be used in case a manhunt requires a horseback trip into the back country. In the trunk, next to the spare tire and jumper cables, is a week's supply of C-rations and water. Three handguns, two rifles, a shotgun and enough ammunition for a prolonged firefight lay next to the canned food. A rifle is under his seat, a pistol constantly at his side. "This is rough country," he said. "If a situation comes up, you can't say `King's X, I got to go back and get my equipment.' There's so much rough country, there's no telling what you'll find when you're out there." But Jackson isn't complaining. "This is probably the best part of Texas," said Jackson, who covers 15,000 square miles of territory. "I wouldn't live anywhere else." Two recent shootings involving rafters on the Rio Grande - including a November incident in which an Eastland man died - have focused national attention on this vast expanse of frontier, where hundreds of miles of mesquite brush languish in the shade of panoramic buttes and mountains. The image of the West Texas badlands - where bandits have been replaced by drug smugglers and coyotes - may live on, but it doesn't appear to worry anyone here. Tourists still flock to the park. Rafters continue to float down the muddy river through the same canyons where the shootings occurred. Raft rental companies, despite some knee-jerk reactions, are still in business. And park rangers say they won't change the way they do things, despite concerns that fearful campers will arm themselves for protection. Local residents - used to living in the state's most desolate and punishing region - take it in stride. Hallie Stillwell, 91, leaves her trailer door unlocked at night. "Don't even think I have a key," she mused, rocking absently in the rear room of her general store. Bill Ivey, whose Lajitas outfitting store owned the raft targeted in the second incident, was equally unmoved. "I feel safer on that river than I do walking down the streets of Houston," he said. The Big Bend area is a world of its own that's difficult for outsiders to understand, residents say. "People come here for a week or 10 days and then think they understand this country," Stillwell said. "Well, they don't." The 801,146-acre park sits in the southwest corner of the state, bordering 118 miles of the Rio Grande. The nearest doctor and bank are 100 miles away. Two small towns, Lajitas and Study Butte, sit on the park's west side and provide limited tourist amenities. The 100 miles around the park are as rugged as the land in its confines. The prevailing terrain is desert and mountain. Dry washes are marked by flood gauges, revealing that during a sudden rain, even the flatland can be treacherous. Black bear, panther, peregrine falcon, rattlesnakes, jack rabbits and coyotes inhabit the region. Ruins of old ranches and Indian archaeological sites lend historical flavor, but park ranger Tom Alex said the region isn't as austere and unforgiving as it appears. "It just takes a while for people to get in sync with the place," he said. The area historically has been a refuge. Some, like Alex, come here to get away from city life. Others come to hide. "A lot of people have come to this country to disappear," said Stillwell, who grew up here on her family's nearby ranch. "And they can do it here." Ivey said folks generally keep to themselves. "There are people here doing everything imaginable," Ivey said. "This is the one place in the world where you can come and be weird and fit in." In a land this punishing, it's not surprising that violence is interwoven with day-to-day life. Jackson and other lawmen say they do the best they can to cover the area, but all admit that a lot of criminal activity probably slips by. "There's no telling what goes on in that back country. There are probably bodies out there we'll never find," Jackson said. Local history is full of ranch massacres and shootings. There were raids by Mexican bandits until the early part of this century, prompting U.S. Army occupation of the area. Stillwell - who packed a pistol in her job as a Presidio schoolteacher in 1916 - said shootings on the river aren't uncommon. She remembered two 18-year-old men shot in 1918 by a Mexican national after a quarrel. "We've always had shootings," she said. "Sometimes, shootings occurred for a reason - an argument, a grudge or a wrongdoing." Phil Koepp, chief park law enforcement ranger, agreed. "There have been incidents all along," he said. "The Colorado Canyon incident, with a murder, just shed light on the other incidents." That episode occurred Nov. 19. Michael Heffley, 40, and wife Jamie, 32, hired a river guide to take them through Colorado Canyon, 26 miles upriver from the park. Jackson said four Mexican teen-agers were smoking marijuana and shooting their guns on the Mexican side of the river when they spied the Heffleys and their guide coming downstream. They decided to open fire. Heffley died from a gunshot wound to the back. The guide and Mrs. Heffley were wounded. A trial for one of the suspects, who lives in the United States, has been set for July, Jackson said. The second shooting incident occurred March 22 in San Vicente Canyon on the park's eastern side and more than 100 miles from the scene of the first incident, Koepp said. Details are sketchy, but three rafters were fired upon from the Mexican side of the river. They returned fire in a three-hour encounter. None was hurt. Authorities haven't determined a motive in the last shooting, but Koepp said sometimes American rafters inadvertently offend Mexicans and prompt angry responses. He cited as an example an incident several years ago in which a group of rafters gave a Mexican citizen a ride in their boat. They let him out where he requested and then took off again. The man angrily waved his fist, then pulled out a pistol and opened fire. The Americans, who escaped unharmed, later discovered that the man had left his hat in the boat and must have thought they were stealing it. Fallout from the two recent shootings has been sporadic. Ivey, who runs the Lajitas Trading Post, said Easter weekend is usually his busiest time of the year. This year, two days after the shooting, every group that had booked equipment for Easter canceled at the last minute. But next door at Big Bend Tours, Beth Garcia said she had three cancellations but was able to fill those slots with people on a waiting list. "We had every boat in the water," she said. "We were turning people away." By late last week, Ivey's business was back to normal. A group of 22 Minnesota college students, who rented rafts from him, said they heard about the second shooting while boarding last Monday, but that didn't dissuade them from traveling the river. "We thought about it, but it wasn't a major worry," said one student, Dave Fawcett. His companion, Susie Swanson, added: "That was probably the safest time to be there. The chances of it happening again were slim." Despite residents' claims that all is normal here, there have been some changes. Jackson, the Texas Ranger, said that since the first shooting, raft guides - who had in the past ignored suspicious behavior on the river - now report such activities to deputies or park rangers. "We need to develop a network of spies down there, " he said. "That's the only way to keep an eye on that back country." Ivey, whose company rents equipment but not guides, said he's against businessmen acting as lookouts for police. "They're supposed to provide protection for us," he said. "That's what we pay taxes for." Garcia and Jackson said there's also been some talk of forming a cooperative venture to set up a radio system so all raft guides, renters and authorities can keep in touch with one another. The biggest problem with that idea: The steep canyon walls, sometimes 1,500 feet high, make radio communication impossible without an expensive series of relay stations. The alternative, toting guns on the river, doesn't meet with approval from the locals. Garcia's company has a policy against it, although she suspects some of her guides do carry concealed weapons in case of trouble. "I don't blame them," she admits. Koepp, of the park police, said the three men shot at before Easter violated federal law by bearing arms in the park, although no decision has been made to cite them for it. Such a citation is a federal misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500 and six months in jail. He doubts a citation against the trio would stick because of the circumstances. Rangers say the two incidents are prompting more rafters to carry guns. Nearly a half dozen, in fact, have been cited since Heffley's murder. One group, Koepp said, actually came out brandishing weapons and looking for trouble. "We don't want this place to turn into a no man's land because of all of the guns," he said. Not only are armed visitors subject to citation and fines here, but anyone caught on the Mexican side with guns - even camping on the river bank - could be arrested by the Mexican police and army patrols that occasionally visit the river. Garcia said all parts of the river are still heavily traveled. Swanson and Fawcett, the Minnesota rafters, said they saw a dozen other tour groups on their two-day stay in Santa Elena Canyon. Jackson and Koepp say the river is as safe as can be expected. Most of the illicit activity - drug and alien smuggling - occurs at night. Ivey said he doesn't even discuss the shootings with customers unless they ask. "It would be like me getting on a plane and announcing to everyone that planes crash," he said. "No one would appreciate that. It's not necessary to give customers something else to worry about."
I probably should have gone back to set the record straight.
Red Wing Republican Eagle(MN) newspaper account of my rattlesnake bite incident of 93.
They were totally helpless down by the river, even if they would have had a pistol for defense..... at that range it prob. would not have helped. What a horrible event
Quote from: "Bobcat"Red Wing Republican Eagle(MN) newspaper account of my rattlesnake bite incident of 93.Got a link to that?
Quote from: "Texan4life"They were totally helpless down by the river, even if they would have had a pistol for defense..... at that range it prob. would not have helped. What a horrible eventYep, very isolated event. Thought about what it musta been like when I was rafting down through Santa Elena Canyon. Much better chance of getting killed in a big city going to a store or walking through a parking lot. Where I used to live in Houston - west side near the beltway Walnutbend - has turned into a virtual war zone. I used to wash my vehicles at a local carwash. Man was killed there not long ago. I don't like going through that area anymore. Certainly won't stop at any of the local "stop-n-rob" stores, etc.
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