Who was Jaime Zapata? Hero RememberedFebruary 16, 2011 - 7:19 PM | by: Serafin Gomez
U.S. Special Agent Jaime Jorge Zapata was shot and killed in the line of duty Tuesday afternoon, reportedly by members of the notorious drug cartel, Los Zetas, while driving between Monterrey, and Mexico City on a four lane Mexican highway. FOX News has confirmed that Zapata and another other ICE agent, Victor Avila, were targeted by the Mexican gunmen because they were U.S. law enforcement, according to an American official. Zapata and Avila were ambushed at a cartel checkpoint by the hit men dressed in camouflage and armed with machine guns. Avila survived but was wounded and hospitalized with two gun shots to his leg.
” The agent said, you know, ‘We’re Americans, we’re diplomats,’ and the response from the drug cartels was bullets,” U.S. Rep.Michael McCaul of Texas, who was briefed Wednesday on the incident, said to the Houston Chronicle.
“They put an AK-47, as I understand it, into the crack in the window and just began to fire away,” McCaul said.
When word spread Tuesday night of the brazen attack, and the even worse news that one of their own had been killed, sadness quickly permeated through the ranks of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Zapata family for their tragic loss,” said ICE Director John Morton in a statement on Wednesday. “May the work we continue to do as an agency be worthy of a sacrifice as great as the one made by Special Agent Zapata.”
“The president called the parents of Special Agent Jaime Zapata to send his and Michelle’s heartfelt condolences on the loss of their son yesterday,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro also said Wednesday in a statement. “The president said that Special Agent Zapata’s service and sacrifice will be remembered, and that the U.S. will work with the Mexican government to bring the assailants to justice.”
Zapata, 32, was a native of Brownsville, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Brownsville, where he graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice in 2005.
Zapata then joined ICE in 2006. The rising special agent was assigned to the Office of the Deputy Special Agent in Charge in Laredo, Texas, where he served on the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit as well as the Border Enforcement Security Task Force. He most recently was detailed to ICE’s attaché office at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Zapata was only to be in Mexico temporarily before he was to return to home Texas.
Wednesday afternoon, Zapata’s body arrived back in Texas and will be carried to its final destination, his hometown of Brownsville.
“He was wonderful,” said Cleveland Joyner to the Houston Chronicle. Joyner’s daughter Stayce had been dating Zapata for more than three years, according to the newspaper. ”I loved the guy.”
” It is terrible. It is sad. I can’t imagine the family going through that, ” Mark Schlatter, Zapata’s high school teacher said to the Brownsville Herald. ” It is just tragic.”
“I remember just a really big smile,” Schlatter recalled. “He was a tall kid. He was real nice, friendly. I had fond memories of him.”
Brownsville’s mayor Pat Ahumada , whose son went to school with Zapata, said the town was collectively expressing their condolences to the agent’s family but there was also a palpable level of frustration with Mexican authorities.
“I am angered by this and frustrated that the Mexican government is not providing security to our agents while we are trying to help them. Criminals have the firepower in Mexico,” Ahumada said, according to the Brownsville Herald. “What I’m asking is that Mexico do a better job.”
FOX News Justice Producer Mike Levine & FOX News producer Kathleen Reuschle contributed to this report.