U.S. Border Patrol agents caught in a violent December standoff with illegal immigrants in Arizona fired the first shots, but with bean bags not bullets, newly obtained records show.
At least one of the suspected bandits armed with AK-47 assault rifles returned fire, hitting Agent Brian Terry, who later died.
"When the suspected aliens did not drop their weapons, two Border Patrol agents deployed 'less than lethal' bean bags at the suspected aliens," FBI search warrant requests say, according to the Arizona Star newspaper, which first obtained the documents. The ammunition is designed to wound and take down targets not kill them.
"At this time, at least one of the suspected aliens fired at the Border Patrol agents. Two Border Patrol agents returned fire, one with his long gun and one with his pistol."
Officials have confirmed the agents hit one of the suspects -- Manuel Osorio-Arellanes -- who is the sole individual in custody but not charged with Terry's murder. He's awaiting a May trial for illegal re-entry to the United States after a previous deportation.
Authorities last month deported to Mexico and released three other suspects detained in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
The emergence of new details of the Dec. 14 attack, for which no new arrests have been made, outraged Terry's family, who have complained publicly that government officials have not kept them informed of the investigation.
"From the very beginning, at the funeral home when they spoke to us face to face, the Border Patrol said there were no bean bags shot. That's what they told us," Brian's stepmother, Carolyn Terry, said in an interview. "They told us that when we were out in Tucson for his memorial. There were no bean bags shot. And what's the first thing on these reports? The guys shot bean bags."
FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson declined to comment on details in the search warrant requests but said the agency walks a fine line in the release of information to the family and the public.
"When there is information to provide to the family and when it's appropriate, we do that," he said. "The last thing we want is to make a mistake and have a case thrown out on a technicality."
Terry Family Wants Answers
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, which is handling the case, said the office has gone to "extraordinary" lengths to explain the status of the investigation to a designated representative from the Terry family.
"We have attempted to be in constant and regular contact with the family in this case," said Robert Sherwood. "We have explained to them that the reason the three suspects were released is because there was no evidence that they had anything to do with the murder."
But Carolyn Terry said many of their questions remain unanswered.
"To me, they're hiding something. Otherwise they'd talk to us," she said.
Officials have declined to address the family's questions about the weapons used in the attack, including reports suggesting the AK-47s were purchased in the United States by a suspected gunrunner, she said. And they have also yet to explain whether a suspected "dirty agent" could have been complicit in Brian's death, although they have publicly ruled out friendly fire.
"I want to know the truth about what happened to Brian," she said.
Terry pointed to the swift justice brought in the ICE agent shooting in Mexico last month and the shooting at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' event in January to highlight her frustration.
Brian Terry, 40, a member of the Border Patrol's elite tactical team, had been on patrol for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers in an area known as Peck Canyon, north of Nogales and south of Tucson, the night he was killed, according to several accounts.
The corridor is known as a funnel for illicit immigrants, drugs and weapons. And as border security has tightened in recent years, officials say, the area has become more dangerous and rife with bandits.
Terry's murder was the first death of a Border Patrol agent in the line of duty since July 2009, when Agent Robert Rosas was killed on patrol along the border in southern California.
This story has been updated to include comment from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix.