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Authorities are searching for witnesses and potential suspects after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed Sunday while on patrol in southwest Texas.

Officials with Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol said in a statement that Agent Rogelio Martinez and his partner were "responding to activity" near Interstate 10 in Van Horn, Texas, when both were seriously injured. Martinez's partner called for help, and other agents provided medical care and took them to a hospital.

Martinez, 36, died from his injuries, officials said. The El Paso native had been a border agent since August 2013.

His partner, who was not identified by authorities, remained in the hospital in serious condition, officials said.

Jeannette Harper of the FBI's El Paso office, which is leading an investigation, told the San Antonio Express-News that authorities are still gathering evidence. She denied reports that the agents were shot.

"They were not fired upon," she told the newspaper.

Authorities haven't said whether they have any suspects or whether they think smugglers or people who were in the country illegally were involved.

Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in a letter sent to border agents that Martinez was unconscious when agents found him, with "multiple injuries" to his head and body.

A National Border Patrol Council labor union official said Martinez may have been killed in a rock attack.

Art Del Cueto, the union's vice president, said he heard from other Border Patrol agents that Martinez and his partner were believed to be responding to an electronic sensor that had been activated.

Del Cueto said he was told that Martinez and his partner apparently did not suffer bullet or stab wounds, so he suspects the pair may have been attacked with rocks, which are commonly thrown at agents working in that area.

The local sheriff expressed skepticism about how the incident was described by union officials and said the agents may have fallen.

"The evidence is not obvious as to what happened out there," Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo said in an interview at his office in Van Horn, population 2,500.

Carrillo said that Saturday was a moonless night and that the agents were walking along difficult terrain with deep culverts.

"The injuries to [Martinez], after talking to his doctors, were consistent with a fall. Very consistent with a fall," Carrillo said. "Why is the other guy hurt? That's the unknown. What happened to him?"

By Monday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction for what he called the "murder" of a Border Patrol agent.

"We owe a great deal of gratitude to the brave men and women of the United States Border Patrol who serve every day to protect our homeland," Abbott said in a statement. "Cecilia and I offer our deepest condolences to the families of the agents killed and seriously injured in this attack. As authorities continue their investigation, it is important that they receive any and all information to help apprehend and deliver swift justice to those responsible."

After news that an agent had been killed, President Donald Trump appeared to connect Martinez's death to border security and plugged his plans for a border wall on Twitter on Sunday night, 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!"

At a Cabinet meeting Monday, Trump offered his condolences to Martinez's family and said the wall he has promised to build along the border between the U.S. and Mexico is on the agenda.

Trump said the injured agent was "brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt" but "looks like he'll make it."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on Twitter, without any further explanation, that Martinez and his partner were "attacked" and he also linked the incident to security on the border with Mexico.

"This is a stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses to the safety of our communities and those charged with defending them," Cruz tweeted. "I remain fully committed to working with the Border Patrol to provide them with all the resources they need to safeguard our nation."

Carla Provost, acting chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, shared similar sentiments, tweeting: "Agent Rogelio Martinez, your service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. Our hearts go out to your family."

The acting secretary of homeland security, Elaine Duke, has promised her agency's full support to "determine the cause of this tragic event."

"On behalf of the quarter of a million front line officers and agents of [the Department of Homeland Security], my thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Agent Martinez and to the agent who is in serious condition," she said in the statement.

Information for this article was contributed by Derek Hawkins, Lindsey Bever, Robert Moore and Nick Miroff of The Washington Post; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 11/21/2017

Print Headline: Suspects sought in attack on border agents

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