McALLEN — The Guatemalan consul here says two countrymen who were killed by an airborne DPS sharpshooter last week have been identified as family men who were seeking a better life for their children back home.
The illegal immigrants were shot with a .223-caliber rifle, said Guatemalan consul Alba Caceres, who identified the men as Jose Leonardo Coj and Marco Antonio Castro.
Both men — who hail from San Martin Jolitepeque, Chimaltenango, Guatemala — were with a group of seven others riding a red Ford pickup that was being chased Thursday afternoon by Texas game wardens, state troopers and other law enforcement officers. A Department of Public Safety helicopter joined the chase as the truck traveled near the intersection of Farm-to-Market Road 2221 and Mile 7, north of La Joya.
The trooper in the helicopter was cleared to fire in order to disable the vehicle. A photograph taken by The Monitor shows the rear left tire blown out, but it also shows what appear to be various bullet holes near the rear of the truck.
The bullets fired from the helicopter killed Castro and Coj, Caceres said. A third Guatemalan immigrant was shot in the arm and also had some shrapnel injuries from the missed shots, she said. That man was treated and is recuperating from his injuries.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has placed the trooper on leave following the shooting. The agency said the sharpshooter opened fire thinking that the chased pickup truck was carrying drugs — not people.
As Texas Rangers investigate the shooting, DPS has remained tight-lipped about the case, which has Caceres very concerned.
“Sadly enough, we have not been given access to pictures of the bodies so that we can send them to Guatemala so the family can do a full identification at home,” she said in Spanish. “We have identified them through their IDs, but I am worried by the lack of communication.”
Caceres’ staff has notified the families and said she was heartbroken upon hearing their stories.
Coj didn’t want to travel illegally to the U.S. to work, but he was pushed to do so by the medical needs of his 11-year-old son, who needed surgery, the consul said. The father, who hails from a very poor region, resorted to seeking work illegally to cover the costs.
“He leaves behind three little orphans: his 11-year-old son, a 7-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old boy,” the consul said. “When I contacted his wife late Friday night to tell her that her husband had died, she was leaving the hospital where her son was at.”
The other victim, Castro, is survived by a wife and two children, Caceres said.
The consul is preparing the necessary process to have the bodies of the two men sent back to Guatemala to be buried by their families, but because of the ongoing investigation that process may be delayed for weeks.
“While to some, these cases are numbers and statistics, each one of these individuals has a story and a family,” Caceres said. “We must not forget that.”
Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts, law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4437.
Follow Ildefonso Ortiz on Twitter: @IldefonsoOrtiz
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