His death was held up as example of the dangers faced by the Border Patrol – and cited by President Donald Trump as another reason to build a border wall – but an autopsy report on an agent fatally injured in a west Texas culvert last fall only deepens the mystery surrounding his death.
Agent Rogelio “Roger” Martinez, 36, a four-year Border Patrol veteran, died of “blunt force trauma,” according to the report, but how he received his injuries remains unclear.
Martinez suffered head injuries and broken bones Nov. 18 near Interstate 10 about 130 miles east of El Paso after responding to a triggered sensor, according to the FBI, which is still investigating.
Shortly before the incident late on a Saturday night, fellow agents said they heard Martinez radio that he had found signs of activity and was checking them out. They were summoned to the 9-foot-deep culvert after a second agent who responded suffered head injuries and had to be hospitalized.
Agent Stephen Garland, 38, has since returned home and was assisting investigators, according to FBI spokeswoman Jeanette Harper. But Garland is still recovering and has trouble remembering what happened, according to Lee Smith, a spokesman for the local Border Patrol union who met with Garland after the incident and said he declined interviews with the news media.
Trump drew national attention to the incident when it was first reported, tweeting, “Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”
Officials with the Border Patrol union said the agents were ambushed by migrants. They noted that the culvert where the agents were found is frequented by smugglers who cross the border illegally about 50 miles south and trek north to the interstate with backpacks of marijuana and other drugs. Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for the local union, said the two were likely hit with rocks.
State and federal officials offered a $70,000 reward for information in connection with the incident. The FBI widened its search to several states, erecting billboards asking for help from Texas to Southern California.
An informant familiar with human smugglers told Border Patrol officials that a pair of brothers recently smuggled across the border had admitted to assaulting the agents, according to a warrant later filed to search the brothers’ car in New Mexico. FBI agents questioned the brothers, but ruled them out as suspects in the agent’s death, although they were charged in federal court with alien smuggling, according to court documents.
The autopsy report, released Tuesday night, said Martinez suffered brain hemorrhaging and fractures to the skull, eye socket, right ribs and collarbone, as well as contusion of his right shoulder, according to Dr. Janice Diaz-Cavalliery, assistant El Paso County medical examiner.
The autopsy also showed a drug in Martinez’s system: butalbital, a barbiturate often found in drugs combined with aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine or codeine. Diaz-Cavalliery noted that the drug can cause “drowsiness, sedation and ataxia,” a loss of coordination.
Manner of death was listed in the report as “undetermined.”
Although Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and other officials have said the agents were attacked, that hasn’t been confirmed by the FBI. A local sheriff, among first responders to the scene, speculated the pair may have been sideswiped by tractor trailers.
But a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing agents, on Wednesday insisted Martinez’s death was not accidental.
“Our position has not changed. We believe Agent Martinez was attacked and murdered,” union spokesman Chris Cabrera said.