A shootout with suspected drug smugglers during a patrol in the territorial waters off Puerto Rico led to the death of one U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent while two others were wounded, the agency said.
“Our hearts are heavy today due to the death & injury of Marine Interdiction Agents following an exchange of gunfire w/ suspected smugglers off the Puerto Rican coast,” CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller tweeted Thursday. “We’re working with partners to ensure those responsible are brought to justice & will share info as we are able.”
One of the suspected smugglers was killed in the shootout and one was arrested, the agency said. The FBI is leading the investigation and the San Juan Field Office reported that three people were in custody Thursday evening.
The U.S. Coast Guard assisted in airlifting the wounded agents to a trauma center on the island. Dr. Israel Ayala, medical director of Puerto Rico’s Medical Services Administration, told CNN that the wounded agents were being treated for multiple gunshot wounds.
“One of them was immediately admitted to the stabilization unit and is being treated by emergency physicians and trauma surgeons,” Ayala said. “Meanwhile, the other agent is in an area that we call minor surgery and is also being evaluated and treated by the emergency room and trauma services.”
CBP spokesman Jeffrey Quiñones told reporters Thursday that details such as the origination point of the vessel, which was spotted 14 miles off the coast of Cabo Rojo and approached by the Air and Marine Operations unit, and the nationalities of the two people on the boat were still under investigation.
The agency said that, after the shooting, agents intercepted and found weapons on another boat nearby. Two people on that boat were arrested.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told senators at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Thursday morning that he had just learned about the incident from “media reports.”
“This just happened. And our thoughts and prayers, of course, are with the family of the agent who was fatally shot and also with those agents who were wounded,” Mayorkas said. “But I think it’s a silver reminder of the sacrifices that the individuals who you represent today here make every day and we owe them our support.”
“It’s a dangerous time, and this is an unfortunate example of that,” he added.
CBP reported in its October operational update that overall cocaine seizures were up 104 percent during the month.
On Wednesday morning, Ramey Sector Border Patrol agents seized 198 pounds of cocaine worth $2 million abandoned next to a makeshift “yola” smuggling vessel in the area of Guajataca beach in Quebradillas. The boat had capsized and the body of a man was found trapped underneath. A firearm was recovered from the 23-foot vessel.
The sector, which includes the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, covers 6,000 square miles of land and water area, including the 12-mile band of territorial water surrounding the islands.