Suspected shooter in 2010 Border Patrol slaying arrested in Mexico

A Border Patrol badge honors Agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a shootout with criminals near Rio Rico in December 2012. Mexican authorities recently arrested the sixth of seven suspects in his case; the five others are in jail. (Photo by Bill Morrow/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – It’s been more than six years since Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with drug smugglers near Rio Rico, and his family was beginning to lose hope that the suspects would be caught.

That’s why Terry’s sister, Michelle Balogh, was “so ecstatic” Wednesday morning to get the call that a sixth suspect, who authorities believe may have been the triggerman, was arrested in Mexico in connection with the December 2010 shooting.

“It’s been a whirlwind few days,” Balogh said Friday. “It’s a weird feeling, knowing they caught him, but Brian deserves it.”

Terry was patrolling Rio Rico on Dec. 14, 2010, when he and other agents ended up in a gunfight with suspected Mexican cartel members. Terry was shot and killed in the fight.

At least one of the smugglers’ guns that was found at the scene was later traced back to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun-running investigation that was started in 2009 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

That operation was supposed to uncover large-scale gun-trafficking operations by turning a blind eye to people who bought guns illegally in Arizona and then tracking the guns to bigger smugglers. But of the roughly 2,000 guns – including AK-47s and .50-caliber rifles – and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition that were allowed to “walk” in the operation, hundreds were never accounted for.

Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry did two tours in Iraq as a Marine before joining the border agency, where he was killed in the line of duty in December 2012 north of Nogales. (Photo courtesy Customs and Border Protection)

The operation led to years of congressional investigations and calls for the resignation of then-Attorney General Eric Holder, and led to the replacement of the U.S. Attorney for Arizona and the ATF chief in the state.

After the killing of Terry, federal prosecutors in 2014 filed murder, drugs, weapons and other charges against seven suspects in the case, and warrants for their arrests.

Five had already been arrested, convicted and given sentences ranging from eight years for one suspect to life in prison for two others, when Mexican authorities arrested Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes in Chihuahua late Tuesday.

Osorio-Arellanes was arrested “based on a provisional arrest warrant issued at the request of the United States,” according to a statement released Thursday by the Justice Department. He faces nine counts, including a charge of killing Terry.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in that statement that he is proud of the work that has been done to secure the border, and he sees this arrest as a great way to send a message to America’s enemies.

“Working closely with our international partners, we will hunt you down, we will find you, and we will bring you to justice,” his statement said.

Officials with the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona declined to comment further on the case.

Balogh said the arrest – and the fact that investigators told her they believe Osorio-Arellanes was “the trigger-puller” – have lifted a weight from her family’s shoulders. Even though they were told the extradition process could take over a year, they are continuing to fight.

She said this latest arrest has restored her family’s hope that the seventh, and final, suspect will be caught.

“The government is working hard with Mexican authorities, so we’re very hopeful,” Balogh said. “We’re still fighting that fight, so it’s just a matter of time before they catch him.”

But she said they are fighting for more than just her brother.

“We’re not just doing it for Brian, we’re doing it for everybody,” she said. “Especially law enforcement, the ones who protect us – they deserve answers and they deserve the truth.”