ZAPATA — Mexican officials said Sunday they still had no suspects and no body following the disappearance of a McAllen man widely presumed dead after his wife reported the couple came under attack by “pirates” 10 days earlier on the Mexican side of Falcon Reservoir.
Despite reports Saturday by U.S. and Mexican news outlets that a Tamaulipas official had identified two brothers as the men responsible for David Michael Hartley’s death, Mexican authorities categorically denied on Sunday that they had any suspects.
Both men reportedly belong to a gang operating out of a town near the reservoir’s southern end, according to The Associated Press. The news broke Saturday when Spanish-language newspaper El Universal reported that Juan Carlos Ballesteros, a Tamaulipas State Police group leader based in Miguel Alemán, had identified the duo.
Hartley, 30, was fatally shot in the head when three boats of gunmen opened fire on him and wife Tiffany Young-Hartley on Sept. 30 as the couple were riding personal watercraft on the Mexican side of the lake, according to U.S. investigators.
In a media blitz that has brought widespread attention to the case, Young-Hartley, 29, went on all the major TV networks and cable news outlets last week with her account of fleeing for her life to the U.S. shore of the lake after trying in vain to get her husband’s limp body onto her personal watercraft. Earlier in the week, Mexican officials questioned her version of events, saying they had found no evidence of the purported attack or Hartley’s remains.
Ruben Dario Rios Lopez, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office in Tamaulipas, known by its Spanish designation PGJ-Tamaulipas, denied that Mexican authorities had identified any suspects and said his office would have been informed if that were true.
“Neither the (Tamaulipas) attorney general’s office nor the personnel working in this investigation have named any suspects,” he said in Spanish. We (the state attorney general’s office) did not release that information. We do not know where it came from, or how it came out, and why those names appeared in (El Universal).”
“Officially, there is nothing,” said Rios Lopez, who works directly with Tamaulipas Attorney General Jaime Rodriguez Inurrigarro.
A Tamaulipas State Police representative reached Sunday night at the agency’s Miguel Alemán office confirmed there is a group leader there named Juan Carlos Ballesteros. But the representative referred requests for comment to the state police office in Reynosa, which was closed Sunday night. The offices in Reynosa and in Miguel Alemán are both under the Tamaulipas attorney general’s jurisdiction.
Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez – whose office is heading the U.S. investigation – said Sunday that he had received no official word the two men named in the Universal report were considered suspects and that he hadn’t heard their names before.
At least two local TV stations carried the story about the suspects Saturday night, with one of them citing El Universal as the source of the information. Gonzalez said at the time that he wasn’t sure where the information was coming from and hadn’t heard about the suspects.
Meanwhile, searches by U.S. and Mexican officials on both sides of the reservoir have failed to turn up Hartley’s body.
Doubts about his wife’s harrowing tale of a pirate attack emerged during the search as officials not directly involved in the case expressed skepticism. Gonzalez, the sheriff, said he considers Young-Hartley’s account of her husband’s disappearance credible.
U.S. Border Patrol agents and Texas Park and Wildlife Department officials continued efforts to find Hartley’s body Sunday.
Two days earlier, on Friday, Mexican officials came under attack on their side of the binational waterway during their own search operation, Gonzalez said.
Mexican Army Lt. Héctor Gerardo López Arellanes confirmed the attack occurred in Ciudad Mier as a convoy was on its way from Miguel Alemán to Falcon Reservoir to continue with the search. Three drug cartel members were killed, but no soldiers were injured in the incident.
Martha L. Hernández covers Mission, western Hidalgo County and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4846. Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4452.