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FBI says death of border agent is a ‘potential assault’

Profile image for Claudia Lauer and Emily Schmall
Claudia Lauer and Emily Schmall, Associated Press

DALLAS -- An FBI official said Tuesday that the bureau is investigating the death of a border patrol agent and severe injuries to another as "potential assault," but he wouldn't rule out that they could have been hurt in some other way.

Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. said during a news conference in El Paso that investigators are still trying to "gather the facts," but they are currently treating it as an assault on a federal officer.

The couched language comes more than two days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Rogelio Martinez succumbed to traumatic head injuries and broken bones suffered while on duty, and after several politicians portrayed his death as the result of an attack.

Martinez died Sunday and his partner, whose name has not been released, was seriously injured. They were found late Saturday in a culvert near Van Horn, about 30 miles from the border with Mexico and 110 miles southeast of El Paso.

At Tuesday's news conference, Buie and U.S. Border Patrol Acting Chief Victor Velazquez did not say why they believed the agents may have been attacked.

Authorities haven't said whether they have any suspects. The state of Texas is offering a $20,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or conviction, and the FBI on Tuesday tacked on an additional $25,000.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press Martinez may have fallen into the culvert. The official said Martinez's partner, who radioed for help, was still recovering in the hospital and has no memory of what happened. The official, who was briefed on the investigation spoke on condition of anonymity and is not authorized to speak publicly, said it happened after dark in an area that's known for drug activity and where agents often look for drugs in culverts.

Rush Carter, a border patrol supervisor for the region that includes the area where the agents were injured, said Monday night that reports it was an attack were "speculation." But several elected officials, including President Donald Trump, referred to it as such.