April 12, 2010 -- Arizona borderlands ranchers and their families, mostly dressed in cowboy hats, long-sleeved shirts, Wrangler jeans, and boots, poured into the Douglas High School gym Saturday to attend a memorial Mass honoring rancher Robert Krentz, who was shot on his ranch by an unknown assailant on March 27.
The mysterious Krentz killing, widely blamed on a faceless drug trafficker, has become a highly politicized rallying cry for border-militarization advocates, and has become central to a nasty Republican Senate primary battle between former Congressman J.D. Hayworth and Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.
McCain, who says he's been unfairly blasted by Hayworth for being soft on the border, and has called for National Guard troops at the border for months, had reportedly visited the Krentz family several days before the funeral. (The McCain campaign would not confirm the visit.) On the day of the funeral, Hayworth pounded McCain in a press release once again for being soft on the border.
No recognizable politicians of note showed up for the Krentz funeral at the high school where Krentz had been a football star. The grieving family and tight-knit ranching community wanted to keep politicians at bay, for just one day.
Still, the town and the ranching community itself was unsettled and tense, with new questions swirling around the Krentz death each day. Increasingly cynical ranchers and residents in both Douglas and its Mexican neighbor, Agua Prieta, wonder if the senseless murder means Mexico's inchoate narco-violence, which has killed more than 19,000 people since 2006, has spilled into their borderlands ranches.