RAYMONDVILLE — Two Mexican nationals are in custody after authorities said they confessed to killing an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent and wounding the agent’s father.
Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence said Border Patrol agent Javier Vega Jr., 36, of Kingsville, died of a gunshot wound to the chest and Javier Vega Sr. of La Feria was hospitalized with a shot to his hip.
Spence said authorities arrested Gustavo Tijernia, 30, of La Villa and Ismael Hernandez, 40, of Weslaco, both Mexican nationals from Matamoros, in connection with the Sunday evening shootings.
The men face charges of capital murder, attempted capital murder, four counts of aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence, Spence said.
The Vegas were shot while gar fishing with the agent’s wife, his mother, two children and another child in the Santa Monica area off FM 1420 about 3.5 miles east of the north levee, Spence said, adding the location was “their favorite spot.”
The suspects confessed to committing other robberies but investigators did not know if they were behind a series of robberies around CameronCounty fishing spots, Spence said.
Natalie Vega, the agent’s sister-in-law, said Javier Vega Jr. is survived by three sons ages 9, 13 and 18.
“The boys are taking it pretty hard,” she said Monday outside the family home in La Feria. “We’re doing as well as we could be.”
She said the agent was shot at “point-blank” range.
“I don’t think the agent got (the gun) out,” she said. But her father-in-law returned gunfire as the suspects fled in a vehicle described as a maroon SUV.
Natalie Vega said her father-in-law was expected to be released today from ValleyBaptistMedicalCenter in Harlingen.
“He was shot basically from hip to hip,” she said. “It went right through the fatty tissue of the lower back.”
Marie Vega, the agent’s mother, called authorities to report the shooting of her son and husband at about 8 p.m. Sunday, Spence said.
Two suspects pulled up in a vehicle to approach the agent and his father before gunfire followed a “discussion,” Spence said. The agent’s father returned gunfire, disabling the suspects’ vehicle.
Authorities found that vehicle “a few miles away” on FM 2629.
“They got a ways down the road before the thing stopped working,” Spence said.
Spence said authorities believe the suspects walked along the floodway to the Sebastian area, where they approached a house to ask for water.
A man who lives off U.S. Business 77 south of the WillacyCounty line told authorities the suspects were there, Spence said. The men were arrested about 1:45 a.m.
“They just surrounded the thing and they surrendered,” Spence said.
Authorities are trying to determine whether the suspects were behind a series of robberies in the CameronCounty area.
“That’s typical of some of these crimes that have been happening in the area,” Spence said. “There are several instances where people have been robbed while fishing. They pull up and try to rob them, take their money, jewelry and usually the vehicle.”
CameronCounty court records show Tijerina, who also has the last name of Sandoval, was charged with reckless driving by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office on Dec. 27, 2006 in the Cameron County Court at Law No. 3. He failed to appear in court and an arrest warrant was issued.
That charge was dismissed on Feb. 6, 2013, at the request of the state.
A review of federal court records shows that a Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval, born in 1983, was arrested at least four times for illegally entering the U.S.
Federal court records also show that Border Patrol agents arrested Tijerina near Edinburg on July 2, 2007, when he told agents that he had entered the country illegally on Dec. 15, 2006 by wading across the Rio Grande near Los Indios.
Tijerina pleaded guilty on July 9, 2007 in federal court in McAllen and he was sentenced to 30 days and fined $10. He was given credit for time served.
Border Patrol agents again encountered Tijerina near Weslaco on Oct. 3, 2007. He said he had entered the country illegally on Sept. 1, 2007 by wading across the river near Progreso. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison, assessed $10 and given credit for time served.
Border Patrol agents again encountered Tijerina near Weslaco on Nov. 11, 2008. He said he had entered the country illegally on Oct. 25, 2008 by again wading across the river near Progreso. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, assessed $10 and given credit for time served.
Tijerina again was found near Edinburg on Dec. 15, 2009. This time, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 26, 2010. He was convicted in July 2010, sentenced to nine months in the Bureau of Prisons and assessed $100.
Star reporter Emma Perez-Treviño contributed to this report