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TribBlog: Search for a Body on Falcon Lake

The office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has offered to help Mexican authorities in the search for a U.S. man officials say was shot and killed on Falcon Lake in South Texas.

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U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said today that his office sent a letter to Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., offering to assist in the search for the body of a U.S. citizen allegedly shot and killed last week on South Texas’ Falcon Lake.

Cuellar — who chairs the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, and whose district includes the freshwater lake — was in Austin for a conference on international human trafficking. Tiffany Hartley told Zapata County authorities Mexican pirates shot her husband David Hartley, 30, in the head while the two were sightseeing on the Mexican side of the international body of water. She said he was shot while the two were on Jet Skis. The shooters continued to fire at her as she tried to retreat, she said, and she could not carry her husband's body to shore.

A frustrated Hartley told the San Antonio Express-News on Tuesday that she believed Mexican authorities were not doing all they could to locate her husband’s body. The Associated Press reported today, however, that Mexican authorities say they have stepped up their search efforts as a result of a phone call from Gov. Rick Perry to Mexican authorities urging them to do everything in their power to find Hartley’s body.

Some on both sides of the Rio Grande have speculated about what happened on the lake, and why the couple would travel into Mexico during what’s been dubbed an all-out war between cartels and law enforcement there. Former Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster — who also served as chairman of the Texas Border Coalition — expressed his own doubts about the incident to the Express-News on Tuesday, questioning whether there was any “domestic discord” between the two.

Cuellar acknowledged the rumors. He said he preferred to see what transpired before addressing their substance. “[Have] there been some questions that have been raised? Definitely. I’ve been privy to some of those, but we’ll wait until they do the investigation,” he said. 

Cuellar, whom Perry appointed as Texas secretary of state in 2001, introduced the governor at the conference. Perry said the Falcon Lake incident should serve as yet another reminder that Washington needs to do more to secure the border, a theme he repeated more than once during his speech at the conference.

“These transnational gangs oppress their trafficking victims but they also employ them as pawns," Perry said. "That’s why in the absence of adequate assistance from Washington, we made another plea [Tuesday] to the office of Homeland Security and reached out to their counterparts in the Mexican side for continued effort to secure our border with Mexico.”

Addressing the governor’s comments, Cuellar told reporters that “this is not the time to be attacking, but I understand we are at that time of the [election] year.” Washington, he added, has added $600 million for border security, which he called “the largest infusion we’ve had for the border.”

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