More than a year after ICE Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata was killed and Special Agent Victor Avila injured in an attack by the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico, Zapata’s family and Avila still have critical questions.
For starters, they don’t know why the two agents were allowed to travel a highway known to be highly dangerous.
Zapata’s parents and Avila’s twin sister made a renewed demand Friday for transparency on the part of U.S. federal agencies regarding the Feb. 15, 2011, attack in the state of San Luis Potosí.
“I feel that I owe my son justice,” Zapata’s mother, Mary M. Zapata, said at a press conference Friday. The Zapatas live in Brownsville.
“We miss him a whole lot,” she added, asking for help in getting answers. “I am hoping that we will come to know the truth, that someone will come forward with (information) that could help us.”
The Zapata family and Avila are represented by attorneys Benigno “Trey” Martinez of Martinez, Barrera & Martinez of Brownsville; Raymond L. Thomas of Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzales of McAllen; and Avila’s twin sister, attorney Magdalena A. Villalobos with the Dallas-based Rad Law Firm.
At the time of the attack, Zapata and Avila were assigned to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s attaché office in Mexico City. They were returning there after meeting in San Luis Potosí with staff assigned to Monterrey.
The two agents had picked up packages believed to contain electronic equipment.
Villalobos said that her brother continues in recovery, still in tremendous physical and emotional pain. “It’s an incredibly difficult thing for him to try to wrap his mind around,” she said, but, “he is a survivor.”
She said the search for answers continues.
“It’s not over. In fact, it is just the beginning,” she said.
Martinez, also speaking at Friday’s press conference, said, “We share a common mission and that is the search for the truth.”
He said U.S. government agencies are refusing to provide adequate answers on the root cause of the tragedy.
Martinez said the events surrounding the attack have affected the families in ways that words cannot convey. He stressed that the families do not have a political agenda and are not antigovernment.
“These families are here to seek the truth,” Martinez said.
Both the Zapata family and Avila have filed claims against the U.S. government and specific agencies.
While pieces of the puzzle are still missing, Martinez said enough is known to make the claims.
The official notices of the claims state that other agents had expressed concern the trip would unnecessarily risk the lives of Zapata and Avila, and that the packages they were picking up could easily have been shipped through the diplomatic courier service assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
The claims notices state that when the agents were attacked in the U.S. government-owned armored vehicle they were using, the doors unlocked unexpectedly because of a flaw, giving the attackers easy access to the agents.
The claims notices maintain that a Texas-based operation similar to Operation Fast and Furious is responsible for allowing the weapons that killed Zapata and injured Avila to get into the hands of known killers.
“Why won’t the government give these families answers?” Martinez said.
Under Operation Fast and Furious, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allegedly monitored criminals trafficking arms in the United States and allowed guns to “walk” into Mexico. The aim was to identify major weapons smugglers and drug cartel operatives.
Thomas, another attorney present at Friday’s press conference, said the government and federal agencies have six months to respond to the claims.