The Sheriff leading the investigation into the brutal slaying of a Border Control Agent by two illegal immigrants has revealed local farmers in his county have reported spotting gangs of armed Mexicans ‘in military fatigues’ marching through their fields.
Sheriff Larry Spence’s department played a key role in catching Ismael Hernandez and Gustavo Tijerina after they allegedly gunned down hero officer Javier Vega Jr. in front of his mother, father, wife and three sons while they were on a family fishing trip.
Since their capture, Fox News reported that the suspects are both Mexican nationals who were in the U.S. illegally and have been deported six times between them.
Spence, who has been Sheriff of Willacy County in south Texas for 29 years, said the problem on the border is reaching a crisis point.
He said ranchers with land 25 miles north of the border have reported groups of men–believed to be illegal immigrants–walking single file, through farm land in military fatigues. Some were armed with rifles.
His stark warning came as a local woman who unwittingly helped Tijerina, 30 and Hernandez, 40, after they killed Javier, said she is now in fear for her life.
Her concerns are indicative of the climate of fear that is creeping into certain parts of the border states because of the increase of illegal activity.
The fugitives banged on her door at midnight on Monday morning, claiming they had been in a fight and looking for help. She let them in and gave them water.
She only became suspicious when she saw a police helicopter circling the property. At that point she flagged down a passing Border Patrol Agent and scores of officers took the men into custody.
But now the mother-of-four says she is terrified that the men, believed to have links to the infamous Gulf Cartel, could send criminal associates to her secluded property to kill her and her family, to stop her from testifying.
Speaking to MailOnline from his office in Raymondville, Sheriff Spence said that while the current political focus at the border had been on the humanitarian crisis posed by tens of thousands of undocumented children arriving alone in the US, an increasing ‘criminal element’ was being ignored.
He said: ‘We are not use to this kind of violence happening in our town. We may have a murder every two or three years, but that would be a bar fight, or a domestic incident, nothing like this.
‘But this is becoming much more prevalent. Lately we’ve been having a lot of traffic through the ranches. Smuggling, illegal immigrants, drugs.
‘About three or four months ago we had an individual who saw people walking through farm property in military fatigues, with backpacks.
‘He went out and asked them, “who are you”, they said “what’s it to you”, he said he owned the property and they said, “well you better get out of here”. Sensibly he left and called us, but by the time we got out there, they were gone.
‘We’ve had people say they’ve seen groups going through the fields in single file, with rifles as well.
‘It’s picked up on the road where the incident with Javier Vega took place. It’s a very busy road for illegal immigrants. A couple of weeks ago we had fifty of them in three cars.
‘As soon as we lit them up the doors fly open and they’re off into the brush. You get some back and the next day you get some walking down the highway, but it’s getting more and more frequent and it’s getting more and more dangerous.
‘This concerns not only me here, but the other counties as well. These are not people seeking asylum legitimately, they have criminal intent and they are making money.’
He went on: ‘We as Sheriffs have the trust of the people, especially near the border. If we don’t stop it here, then the problem is going to spread. We need to help come up with a solution.
‘You hear of places already in the United States where cartels have a foothold. We are just trying to do our part. Sheriff’s on the border in New Mexico, Arizona and California are having the same problem.
‘For several years we’ve been saying, “we’ve got a problem here” but nobody would listen. We have had several incidents and people need to open their eyes, there is some border violence.
‘There is a definite need for asylum if people are being persecuted but there’s a criminal element behind all of this and we need to open our eyes, we can’t just keep letting everybody in.
‘We have always been a compassionate nation, but just recently, there were 1,200 a day coming through. Border Patrol have said we are doing a great job out here, but it is a concern. I don’t want one of my guys going out on their own and getting hurt.’
And Sheriff Lance has not just experienced Mexicans or Central Americans coming across the border.
He said: ‘In Port Mansfield, we have had Chinese people and Polish people coming in illegally by water. It makes you wonder what is coming through. Maybe we are just scratching the surface.’
Having worked for the FBI and served in the US military in Vietnam, Spence has been an officer of some description for more than four decades.
And he has definitely noticed a sharp upsurge in violence in recent years. He explained: ‘It’s not like it was years ago when people were just looking for a job or something to eat. Now if they ask for something and they don’t get it, some of them will take it.
‘I used to walk around and not show a weapon, but now I have two, or maybe three. I love this country and I love the people I serve but we need to do something. Many of us are facing the same problems, we are getting overrun and the danger is increasing.’
Sunday’s murder happened at a small fishing hole used by the Vega family for years. Javier Jnr, his parents Javier Snr and Marie, wife Paola and their three boys Javier III, Jiovanni, and Jarod were enjoying their day out when the two suspects ambushed them.
The family bravely tried to fight them off, with various unconfirmed reports claiming both Javier Snr, Jnr and even Marie fired shots at them. But 36-year-old Javier Jr–a Border Patrol veteran of six years and a former marine–was killed by a shot to the chest and Javier Snr was blasted in the hip.
Initially it was claimed Tijerina and Hernandez confessed to the murder, but Sheriff Spence says that isn’t the case. He explained: ‘They haven’t confessed to the murder, but they have confessed to being there and to attempted robbery.
‘We need to sit down with everyone who was there and work out exactly what happened. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. I’m just glad we manage to find them. We are a small department and we had a lot of help. The phone rang off the hook that night, with FBI, Border Control, Board of Public safety. They were all saying, “Larry, whatever you need, you’ve got it helicopters, whatever.”
‘Once we found the vehicle, our next thought was, they are on foot and they are armed, someone else could get hurt very easily. I was surprised when I heard someone had let them in (to their house). They could have very easily been killed.’
MailOnline spoke to the woman who did let them into her house after they knocked on her door at just after midnight. She is too scared to be identified, but she told how the two alleged killers were in her property, just feet away from her four children.
She said: ‘I was at home with my four kids. We were getting ready to go to bed and there was a knock at the door.
‘My son answered and said there were two guys who had been hurt. I came out and asked them what they wanted. They said, “Water and to charge a phone”. They said they had got into a fight with some family down the road who kicked them out.
‘They were right inside the house. My daughter gave them some water and the chunky one charged his phone. He called his sister and told her he was hurt and he needed to get away.
‘He said he’d pay me money to take them to a town called Weslaco about 20 minutes away to drop them off.’
The woman said she only realized something was seriously suspicious when a police helicopter started circling her house. She said: ‘I called my kids and said, “something doesn’t feel right”. They said, “Momma, someone keeps flashing a light in the house”.
‘I went back out and tried to flag to the helicopter. Then a Border Patrol car came flying down the road and I flagged him down. I asked him if he was looking for two Mexicans, because there are two in my house.
‘They drew weapons and then about 35 cars back up started turning up. There were so many and so many guns, that’s what shocked me.
‘The Mexican guys were round the backside of the house. The police asked if they had any weapons and I said I hadn’t seen any.
‘They went into the house and then caught them by the back door and brought them around. They didn’t put up a fight. They had a look on their faces like, “damn, I’ve been caught, I’ve got a lot of time in prison”.
‘The investigator came over and said, “did you not see the news, they killed a Border Control Officer and shot his father and they’ve been on a crime spree all day”.’
It was only then that the enormity of what had happened hit her. She said: ‘I had to take a deep breath. I had just helped some criminals and I was so worried about my family, they could have killed them.’
Now she can’t stop thinking about who these men really are and what they are capable of. She went on: ‘Then I found out one of them had crossed the border four times. I mean, they need to beef up their security. He’d been running from them for a long time and now it gets to this point. If people can come over and do this, then we’re in big trouble.
‘They really need to do something quickly. It’s scary. I have heard the cartels are having a war down here. I don’t want my kids to stray far from the house. I don’t want to worry about them being snatched or anything. Now this has happened.
‘Who’s to say they don’t make a phone call, send someone else out here and say, kill the whole family? I am scared to testify because I am putting my kids in danger. We can’t protect the border, so who’s going to protect me and my kids?’
Soon after their arrested, Fox News reported the pair’s long list of run-ins with American law enforcement and Border Patrol.
It also reported Tijernia–who is the alleged gunman–could also face charges in connection with a string of similar attacks in Cameron County over the last six weeks, believed to be linked to the infamous Gulf Cartel.
The ruthless crime syndicate is one of the oldest, most established in Mexico and is based out of the suspects’ home town of Matamoros, directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Its primary business is drug smuggling, but it also operates through protection rackets, assassinations, extortions and kidnappings. It is believed it has recently branched out into robbing U.S. citizens, before smuggling their belongings back across the border.
Fox News claims sources have informed them Tijernia is expected to be charged with four counts of aggravated robbery and one conspiracy organized crime charge.
They allege that one of Tijernia’s earlier victims was another off-duty Border Patrol agent who was also out fishing when he was robbed.
On Tuesday the station also reported both Tijernia, 30 and Hernandez, 40 had been arrested and deported numerous times. They were issued with tiny fines and the seemingly came back into the United States at will.