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- 07-23-2012, 10:37 AM #1
Weapons stashed, ditched along S. Arizona border -
Weapons stashed, ditched along S. Arizona border
Point to clandestine border crime, may even be tied to agent's killing
July 22, 2012 12:00 am • Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star
When a hiker in Madera Canyon discovered three AK-47-type rifles wrapped in plastic last month, it may have seemed like a random occurrence.
Across Southern Arizona's borderlands, workers, residents or visitors occasionally come across weapons that apparently have been stashed or ditched by criminals. In two cases this year, people in areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management have found stashed, plastic-wrapped rifles.
And in a fourth incident this year, a young border-crosser said the two guides of his large group stashed plastic bags of weapons in a cave southwest of Tucson. Inside, the 17-year-old told a Pima County Sheriff's investigator, were guns like the kind you see in action movies - and grenades.
Each incident may have its own explanation, but there are common reasons for the stashes, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada.
"They'll put them in a strategic place, and when they're going to rip somebody off or going to protect a load, they go retrieve them," Estrada said.
The phenomenon may also be relevant to the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Rio Rico in December 2010. Federal prosecutors have said the six defendants in the case crossed the border from Mexico early that month and picked up weapons that were cached north of the line.
They declined to detail how or where the defendants got the guns, which were bought in January 2010 by a young man named Jaime Avila, now a defendant in the notorious Operation Fast and Furious case. But Terry's cousin, Robert Heyer of San Diego, said he would like to see investigators uncover whoever stored the weapons for his cousin's alleged killers.
"Where did they go once Jaime Avila walked out of the Lone Wolf Gun Store on Jan. 10, 2010?" Heyer asked.
Connection to migrant
The story of the long guns and grenades would never have emerged if a woman hadn't died while crossing the border in May. Mariana Chaverri Piña entered the United States May 5 with her 17-year-old nephew and a group of about 40 illegal immigrants, the nephew told a Pima County sheriff's investigator.
Three days into their journey, the group began to climb a mountain ridge, apparently in the Baboquivari Mountains southwest of Tucson, and arrived at a cave, the report says.
"Once they got to the cave, both the guide and his assistant put their bag of guns into the cave," the report said. The teen "stated that he did not get a good look at what the guns and grenades looked like because once the guides had removed the packs from their backs, they told the rest of the group to go wait downhill a little bit and he walked away."
The group stayed that night in the area, and the next day, the teen's aunt was bit by a rattlesnake. The group left her behind, and she eventually died and was found by area residents. The boy was later captured by the Border Patrol, and it was May 13 by the time a sheriff's deputy heard his story.
Neither the sheriff's department nor the Border Patrol acknowledged following up by searching for the weapons.
In a written statement, Border Patrol spokesman Brent Cagen said, "Occasionally, abandoned weapons are recovered in the desert. Firearms seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agencies in Arizona are then test-fired for cross-matching through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to determine whether any of the weapons were used in the commission of a crime."
On Feb. 29, volunteers from Friends of the Ironwood Forest were cleaning up a wash where illegal immigrant or smuggling groups had left trash near the Silver Bell Mountains, northwest of Marana, said Jon Young, state chief ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona. One of them saw the corner of a plastic bag sticking out from the sand and pulled on it. Out came a plastic bag wrapped in a T-shirt and containing a Mac-90 rifle.
A similar discovery happened three days later. On March 2, about 300 yards south of Interstate 8 in an area west of Casa Grande, a ranger found a plastic bag wrapped in a T-shirt underneath a pile of brush. Inside was an AK-47-style assault rifle and a 30-round magazine loaded with 28 rounds.
Young said he isn't sure why rangers find weapons in the monuments, but he thinks smugglers' concerns offer an explanation.
"A lot of the scouts or cartel members tend to work the same areas. They come and go out of these remote areas," Young said. "I think it's probably riskier for them to be traveling with a weapon. They store the weapon in an area where they know they're either going to use them or keep them in the future."
If members of the public find weapons, they should call 911 or a local law-enforcement office, he said.
Weapons stashed, ditched along S. Arizona border
Last edited by nomas; 07-23-2012 at 10:55 AM. Reason: separated words