Vigil calls for justice in cross-border shooting

Updated: Oct. 10, 2017 at 10:04 PM MST
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NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Five years ago Tuesday, a cross-border shooting killed a Mexican teen. His family, friends, and activists gathered Tuesday evening to remember the young man.

Lonnie Ray Swartz, a Border Patrol agent, was indicted on a second-degree murder charge in the death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was hit 10 times by gunfire. Swartz pleaded not guilty to the charge in October 2015.

Tuesday's vigil took place in multiple locations, with people out on the streets in Nogales, Arizona, followed by a mass at a Catholic church in Mexico, and a candlelight vigil on the street corner where Elena Rodriguez was shot.

It brought about curious spectators from afar. Jorge Vielman, a father to a couple of boys, felt a connection while standing at the border wall on the American side.

"I could identify with my family. So that's why I'm supporting them, by coming here," said Vielman, who was visiting Nogales from Indiana.

He came to view the ceremony after following the case.

The murder case against the Border Patrol agent accused of killing a Mexican teen in a cross-border shooting in 2012 will move forward after a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss in March 2017.

Judge Ranner Collins issued the ruling, denying a claim by an attorney for Swartz that the federal government didn't have jurisdiction over the case.

Border Patrol has said that Elena Rodriguez was among a group of rock throwers endangering agents' lives.

Five years later, family and friends are still coping with the loss.

"Fortunately, they haven't lost hope. They haven't become demoralized. They're a united family. That's not always the case. Sometimes it destroys families. We've seen families fall apart, disappear, after these shootings," said Richard Boren, a Border Patrol Victims Network volunteer.

The family is still intact but looking for answers. Swartz's trial had been delayed more than four times since the shooting.

"They want to see the agent behind bars. There's just no other successful resolution," Boren said.

The ACLU is helping representing Elena Rodriguez' family in a civil lawsuit against Swartz. The ACLU said this court case is unique in that it's the first time in U.S. history that a Border Patrol agent has been charged in a cross-border shooting.

The story is touching even people like Vielman, watching from a distance.

"It's very powerful to see the families together and also cry for the justice, and hear the people's comments that they will continue to do this vigil every year."

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