Multiple outlets report that the alleged assailant in the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, was shot and killed by a Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) agent, who was also wounded. If those reports are true, the unnamed agent saved untold lives at great risk to him- or herself, but such selflessness is not an uncommon virtue among agents generally or BORTAC in particular.
BORTAC. BORTAC is not what one commonly thinks of when one envisions the Border Patrol. Formed in 1984 and headquartered in El Paso, Texas, BORTAC agents are trained to provide immediate response to what CBP describes as “emergent and high-risk incidents requiring specialized skills and tactics”. Think SWAT, only in Border Patrol green.
And unlike most Border Patrol units, BORTAC sends agents all around the world in support of the component’s mission and to train U.S. and foreign military and law-enforcement entities.
BORTAC was formed as an emergency response team in reaction to riots then occurring at INS detention facilities in the mid-80s, but the unit’s responsibilities quickly grew to include service of high-risk warrants, intelligence and reconnaissance, and precision observation.
BORTAC is highly selective, and those agents who make it past the selection stage can expect to be put through a grueling, weeks-long training course based on the one developed for U.S. Special Forces units. BORTAC agents are strong, smart, and tough — the kind of people whom you want on your side, and whom you don’t want to go against.
The Town. Uvalde is a town that I know well, and I was last there in August while embedded with the Texas Highway Patrol. Home to fewer than 16,000 residents, it sits about 60 miles from the Rio Grande and 80-plus long miles from San Antonio. It’s the county seat, surrounded by game ranches, a few farms, and miles and miles of brush.
The town was last in the national headlines in March, when DHS began releasing up to 150 illegal migrants per day that it could not hold on to the streets there for outbound transit. Those releases were the reason Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) began busing illegal migrants to Washington, D.C. — to share the burdens border communities were bearing with the seat of the federal government.
Of the confirmed dead in the Robb Elementary School attack, 19 were children and two were teachers — one of 23 years’ tenure, the other in the profession for 17 years. They represented both the backbone and the future of the small town, and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman Lt. Chris Olivares put it best when he described the killer (whom we will not name) as an “evil person”.
The Shooting and the Response. The killer has been described as a Uvalde “local”, a graduate of a local high school who was unemployed with no identified friends or girlfriend.
Olivares stated that the killer had first shot his grandmother (who is in critical condition), and then crashed his car before heading into the school and opening fire. He was wearing body armor and reports indicate that he was armed with a handgun and a rifle.
Border Patrol agents — both on and off-duty — responded to the scene. That is not a surprise: As I have explained in the past, local law-enforcement agencies in the area have few officers, and so Border Patrol agents are often first responders, regardless of the situation. When you check the list of emergency numbers there, Border Patrol is usually at the top.
DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa’s tweets tell the story from there:
U.S. Border Patrol Agents responded to a law enforcement request for assistance re an active shooter situation inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Upon entering the building, Agents & other law enforcement officers faced gun fire from the subject, who was barricaded inside.
— Marsha (Catron) Espinosa (@MCatronDHS) May 25, 2022
The Dangers Agents Face, and the Abuse They Suffer. “Risking their own lives” could be the opening phrase in any number of stories describing the efforts of the Border Patrol. Agents “risk their own lives” to save migrants lost in the wilderness, to rescue drowning ones from rivers and canals, and in any number of scenarios involving smugglers and cartels.
They rarely “risk their own lives” to take down active shooters, but as the Uvalde incident demonstrates, if they must do so, they can and do, willingly.
This is a very different picture from the fallacious one that was painted of mounted agents on horseback a few miles away from Uvalde, in Del Rio, Texas, in September. They were responding to a massive influx of tens of thousands of migrants who were flooding into that small town from across the Rio Grande.
Images of the agents holding their reins to steady their mounts, in the words of the New York Times, “prompt[ed] accusations that they had been using whips against” those migrants — which is ludicrous for anyone who knows anything about riding or agents.
There are apparently a number of high-ranking government officials who know or care little about either subject. Vice President Kamala Harris, for one, asserted: “Human beings should never be treated that way. ... And I’m deeply troubled about it.”
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered her two cents, opining: “All migrants seeking asylum must be treated in accordance with the law and with basic decency. ... Any acts of aggression or violence cannot be tolerated and must be investigated.” At least that statement left room for doubt.
President Biden was not so reserved, calling the pictures of those mounted agents “outrageous” and then making the following vow on September 24:
I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation, underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. ... It's an embarrassment, but beyond an embarrassment, it is dangerous. It’s wrong, it sends the wrong message around the world, it sends the wrong message at home. It's simply not who we are.
As I reported in April, however, those agents have apparently been cleared of any wrongdoing — which makes sense, because no wrongdoing was apparent. The outrage was public and spittle-flecked; the retractions and apologies to those who were wronged — if any — must have been expressed behind closed doors, because no other statements have been forthcoming from the White House or Capitol Hill.
Going back to the September event, however, when asked whether the president had seen the images of the mounted agents on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated: “He believes that the footage and photos are horrific. They don’t represent who we are as a country.”
Whether the pictures of those agents “represent who we are as a country” in that instance is a matter of opinion. They were sworn officers, doing their jobs in a lawful manner, so yes, I believe they do.
What is not open to debate — assuming the press reports are correct — is that the Border Patrol agents who rushed into gunfire heedless of their own lives to save innocent children and teachers in a small town near the Mexican border do “represent the best who we are as a country”, and we should all strive to live up to their standard — in our words and our deeds.