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The New York Times

The New York Times

NATIONAL DESK

Marine Killing Of Teen-Ager Is Investigated
By ERIC O’KEEFE
Published: June 1, 1997

A marine will be the subject of a grand jury inquiry into the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old who was tending a herd of goats on his family's farm near the Mexican border.

District Attorney Albert Valadez said he would proceed with the investigation of the marine, whom he did not identify, based on reports from Texas Rangers who are investigating the shooting of the youth, Ezequiel Hernandez Jr.

Mr. Hernandez died on May 20 after he was shot by a member of a Marine team from Camp Pendleton, Calif., assigned to work with the Border Patrol. The death was the first civilian fatality since the Defense Department created a joint mission in 1989 to assist drug interdiction.

The shooting occurred at 6:15 P.M., while Mr. Hernandez was tending his family's herd of goats, a daily chore for the student at Presidio High School. Four of the marines were at an observation post near the farm at a crossing of the Rio Grande called Polvo, a narcotics-smuggling area.

The marines have said that Mr. Hernandez fired at the team twice. When he raised his .22-caliber rifle to fire a third time, the marines have said, the commander of the team fired back once, hitting Mr. Hernandez in the torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

It is not clear whether the youth knew of the presence of the marines, who try to remain concealed on such missions. Mr. Hernandez had no criminal record and was not suspected of drug-related activities. A .22-caliber rifle and numerous shells were at the scene. Mr. Hernandez often took along his rifle for target practice while goat herding in the Big Bend region, the authorities said.

For 20 years, narcotics have been the primary contraband in the area, superseding earlier trading in alcohol, guns and exotic animals.

Maureen Bossch, a spokeswoman for the joint interdiction group, which has its headquarters at Fort Bliss in El Paso, said the Texas Rangers were the lead investigators on the case, helped by the Presidio County Sheriff's Department.