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Agent mistook others for smugglers, union chief says

| Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 7:46 p.m.

PHOENIX — The Border Patrol agent killed last week in a shooting in southern Arizona apparently opened fire on two fellow agents thinking they were armed smugglers and was killed when they returned fire, the head of the Border Patrol agents union said on Sunday.

The two sets of agents approached an area where a sensor had been activated early Tuesday from different directions and encountered each other in an area of heavy brush, National Border Patrol Council President George McCubbin said.

Agent Nicholas Ivie apparently opened fire first and wounded one of the other agents but was killed in the return fire.

“I don't know what it was he saw or heard that triggered this whole event,” McCubbin said. “Unfortunately, it resulted in his death and another agent injured.”

Acting Cochise County Sheriff Rod Rothrock confirmed the scenario but would not say if Ivie was the first to shoot, saying that was up to the federal agencies involved.

The new details add to an FBI statement on Friday that the shooting appeared to be a friendly fire incident that involved no one but the agents.

Sensors are set up along the U.S.-Mexico border to detect smugglers or illegal immigrants, with Border Patrol agents responding when they're set off. The shooting occurred in a rugged, hilly area about five miles north of the border near Bisbee, Ariz., an area known for illegal trafficking.

Both McCubbin and Rothrock said the two sets of agents knew the others were heading to the area but apparently did not know they were so close. McCubbin said he had been briefed by the agency, while Rothrock's agency has been involved with the investigation.

“It was dark, very, very rugged terrain, and what they could see of each other was further obscured by the fact that there was brush and cacti and stuff like that between them,” Rothrock said.

Ivie's death marked the first fatal shooting of an agent since a deadly 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits that killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010 and spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation called “Fast and Furious.”

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