Oct. 2, 2010— -- Search teams are combing a Texas lake for the body of a man who was allegedly shot and killed by Mexican pirates when he and his wife were ambushed after crossing into Mexican waters on their personal watercraft.
David Michael Hartley, 30, and his wife Tiffany Hartley, 29, were attacked on Falcon Lake, near the southern tip of Texas, police said.
Tiffany Hartley told police her husband was shot in the back of the head as the couple fled to U.S. waters.
The gunmen are suspected to be Mexican pirates who have been marauding on the lake, law enforcement officials said.
Hartley fell off his watercraft after he was shot, according to his wife, who told rescuers and police she attempted to circle back to save him, but the gunmen were still firing shots so she had to abandon the rescue attempt.
Texas Department of Public Safety officials said Friday they believed that David Hartley was dead, but his body has yet to be found.
U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Narcizo Ramos told The Associated Press that he didn't know whether Mexican authorities were searching their side.
According to Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr., Tiffany Hartley said she and her husband were returning to U.S. waters after sightseeing and taking photos when they saw armed men aboard some boats.
The couple "observed some boats coming at them at a pretty high rate of speed, noticed that some of the boats were armed so they immediately started, according to her, revving it up and gassing it up to the U.S, side of the border to prevent them getting hurt," he said. "Then, of course, shots started being fired at them.
"She said she was seeing bullets hitting close to her in the water and realized that her husband had been hit behind the head," he said. "She went back trying to find, trying to help him. She went in the water trying toload up her husband to her Jet Ski ... trying to get his body and Jet Ski back to the U.S. side.
"She was being shot at so she finally had to let go of the body, climb back in her Jet Ski and head back over here to the United States," he said.
Tiffany Hartley told The Denver Post she believes that her husband was shot five to six miles from the Texas shoreline. Once she was able to reach the shore in Zapata, she parked and called for help.
One of the boats may have crossed into U.S. waters briefly while trying to run her down, she said.
Gonzalez said police at first were not sure whether to believe her story, despite the history of violence on the lake, but another person came forward and said described seeing a woman on a watercraft being chased by men in a boat.
A Recent Increase in Violence
Falcon Lake, part of the Rio Grande situated directly on the Texas-Mexico border, has recently become a haven for the pirates, and there have been at least five reported run-ins with pirates on the lake so far this year, though this is the first instance of a death.
The sheriff said many of the pirates are teens or preteens, and some "barely even know how to use a weapon."
But despite that, he said he has long feared that someone would be killed.
"The one thing I dreaded on Falcon Lake has happened," he said. "The lake is not secure, the border is not secure because the incident that I dreaded the most has in fact happened. We cannot go to Mexico, we cannot recover that body, we cannot conduct an investigation, we have to tell the family we can't do anything about it."
According to ABC Rio Grande, Texas, affiliate KRGV-TV, there have been at least four previous incidents on the lake over the past five months:
State Representative Aaron Pena, a south Texas lawmaker briefed on the pirates earlier this year, has suggested that residents stay off of Falcon Lake altogether.
"I wouldn't do it. When I go out there I have all the protection Texas can provide. But the average fisherman doesn't have that," Pena said.
Pena added that he is certain that the pirates are working in operation with Mexico's violent drug cartels, who wouldn't allow the pirates on the lake otherwise.
Texas public safety officials said that the pirates use AK-47s or AR-15s to intimidate their victims. They also said that they believe they use local fisherman to man the boats to get as close as possible to American vessels.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said this week's deadly shooting points to the need for further border security.
"It's really become substantially worse in the last 18 months with the drug cartels having almost free rein," Perry said Friday. "This is about our citizens', on both sides of the borders, safety."