October certainly came in like a lion for residents of the Rio Grande Valley. On October 1, news broke of the alleged murder of an American jet-skier on border-straddling, allegedly freshwater-pirate-infested Falcon Lake.
A recap for those who don't want to click the link: According to Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, David Hartley, 30, and his wife Tiffany Young-Hartley, 29, had ridden their jet-skis across the lake to Old Guerrero, a partially submerged town on the Mexican side. After taking some photos, they were headed back towards the American side at around 2:45 in the afternoon when two or three boats pulled alongside them and six gunmen opened fire.
Young-Hartley said her husband was hit in the head. Initially, she said she tried to circle back and pull her 250-pound husband to the American side, but that the hail of bullets was still too thick, and she was forced to let him go and head for safety. David Hartley's body has not been found, and somewhat miraculously, Young-Hartley was not hit.
Right now there are as many questions as answers in this mystery, and at least one authority, Mexican district attorney Marco Antonio Guerrero Carrizales, is asking many of them. Right now, he says there there is no evidence of a crime.
First, where is the body? Young-Hartley said David had been wearing a life-vest -- where then could his remains have gotten to? Likewise, his jet-ski has yet to turn up. Young-Hartley has theorized that the gunmen took both, and while we could understand why they would haul off a jet-ski, why would these hardened and known killers bother taking Hartley's body?
And there's this: Until five months ago, when they moved to McAllen, Hartley and his wife had been living in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, where David worked for Calfrac Well Services.
Young-Hartley said the two planned to return to their native Colorado in the middle of this month.
So why would this couple, who presumably knew the dangers of life on the border, think it a good idea to joy-ride across Falcon Lake, illegally enter Mexico, and take pictures of Old Guerrero?
Young-Hartley told CBS News that she had heard the warnings about Falcon Lake, but that nothing had happened for months. "So, no, we had no concerns whatsoever of going over there," she said. Like there's anybody in Texas who thinks it's safe to lollygag around on the border these days...
She also said they were accustomed to standing out, having lived in Reynosa for two-and-a-half years. "We're not people who, you know, blend in," she said. "We stand out. We don't blend in."
Indeed they don't. Not only were they a couple of Gringos in Reynosa, but their Facebook pages show them to be two evangelical Christians with far-right politics. (Also interesting: the couple drove to San Antonio to hear financial adviser Dave Ramsey speak. Despite Young-Hartley's Facebook posting to the contrary, it hasn't been our experience that people in great financial shape do things like that.)
"And we lived there, and we lived a life of no fear. That we were not going to stop living our life and adventures," Young-Hartley went on. "David loves the history. That's what he loves. And that's why we were there that day."
Look at this from the perspective of a Mexican drug cartel: why would you want to shoot a couple of American tourists in cold blood? Yes, the cartels are ruthless and even sadistic, but there is almost always a profit motive behind what they do. They had nothing to gain from shooting the Hartleys.
After canceling some earlier scheduled appearances, reportedly "on the advice of a private security company that she hired," Young-Hartley has been making the media rounds, tearfully declaring she wants the violence to stop and that the government really needs to step up border security. She and the Hartley family are saying the Mexican government is not doing enough to try to find Hartley's body; the Mexicans counter by saying that she has yet to lodge a formal complaint with them.
She appeared on Good Morning America and some of the details of her story differ from what was reported in earlier print accounts.
And there's a sort of magic bullet thing going on. She says on Good Morning America that the pirates were chasing them, that she saw bullets hitting the water all around her and turned around and saw her husband fly over the handles of his jet-ski.
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She said he landed face down in the water. She says she turned around on her jet-ski and went back to him and only when she turned him over did she see that he had been shot in the back of the head...Hmmm. And she says the killers pulled up right alongside her and had her in their gunsights, deciding what to do with her, and then chose to spare her for some reason. And then "God told her to go."
In spite of receiving no official report from Young-Hartley, the Mexicans say that they have searched a one-mile wide area of water and land and have found no trace of Hartley or his jet-ski. Mexican anglers who live in the area report having heard no gunshots or even jet-ski motors when the alleged incident was said to have taken place.
But can the (possibly corrupted) authorities or (likely terrified) witnesses in such a drug-infested region be trusted? The Mexican side of Falcon Lake is a full-on narco-state. The police retreated from the town of Nuevo Guerrero, leaving the city to be disputed between fighters from the Zetas and Gulf Cartel. When the McAllen Monitor questioned a Mexican army captain ostensibly in control of Falcon Lake about the incident yesterday, four days after it was reported to have happened, he said their asking was the first he had heard of the event.
This case already has the makings of an outstanding Lifetime movie -- attractive and prosperous young couple (high school sweethearts, no less) -- comes to grief in international incident. Whether there are any further twists and turns remains to be seen.