Law enforcement officials in the U.S. were on a heightened sense of awareness Monday following reports of sustained gunfire across the border in Agua Prieta early Monday.
Both the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and the Douglas Police Department received calls reporting gunfire south of the international border between Douglas and Agua Prieta.
Douglas Police Lt. Mark Wilkinson heard the shots, which he said came from semiautomatic and automatic weapons and lasted about an hour, from 3 a.m. to approximately 4 a.m.
“I could hear the gunfire from my house and I live 12 blocks north of the border,” Wilkinson said Monday afternoon.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said his agency was told that at least two people were killed in the skirmish.
“We were informed that a caravan came into Agua Prieta and shortly after that there were reports of gunfire throughout the city,” Dannels said. “We’re hearing right now that there are two confirmed dead, possibly three. The reasons for the shooting, we don’t know. We’re not getting a lot of information from the authorities across the line in Mexico. As a result, local, state and federal law enforcement are all working together collectively to gather intel. We’re on high alert, obviously, until we can see what’s going on down south.”
Wilkinson said this is the second time this year that gunfire has rung out in Agua Prieta.
“This is not a common occurrence,” Wilkinson said. “It sounded like semiautomatic and automatic weapons. When you hear that, it’s typical of a turf war at the plaza.
“I started receiving text messages from the on-duty sergeant about the gunfire.”
The lieutenant explained that a “turf war” refers to a battle between competing drug cartels, or a power struggle between people within the same cartel. He was not sure which of the two situations sparked the gunfire Monday.
He said the “plaza” refers to an area of Agua Prieta controlled by the drug cartel, which in Agua Prieta is a division of the massive Sinaloa Cartel.
There have been no reports of violence spilling over into the U.S.
Douglas Police issued an alert on its Facebook page, cautioning people about traveling into Mexico.
“Residents are cautioned to avoid unnecessary travel into Mexico at this time,” the alert reads.
Dannels encourages anyone traveling into Mexico to do so with caution and vigilance.
“I’m not saying it is safe,” he said. “We had a pretty good shootout last night. I heard around 9 a.m. this morning there was some more shooting. So obviously there is a lot of unrest in Agua Prieta. When we hear more about the causation and the reasons, we’ll get that out.”
In June, there was a report of shootings in both Agua Prieta and Naco, Sonora. Dannels stated this time it appears just to be Agua Prieta that was impacted.
Wilkinson said he could not say whether the June incident was the result of opposing cartels battling it out or an inter-cartel power play.
“This is not good,” Dannels said. “We have international communities that we share on both sides; a lot of good people on both sides.”
Agents at the Douglas Port of Entry reported that traffic was normal Monday and the wait times to cross into the U.S. from Mexico were about the same as they are normally.
U.S. Border Patrol officials in the Tucson Sector had no information on the incident.
“Our highest priority is the safety of our citizens and we will take active measures to ensure that safety,” Dannels said.