Four months ago, 19-year-old Carlos LaMadrid was shot four times in the back by a Border Patrol Agent at the Douglas, AZ border wall. As the news media reported, Carlos was seen by Border Patrol climbing the wall into Mexico. As they started chasing after him, either he or another person at the top of the wall started throwing rocks at the agents. The agents then responded with bullets, three to Carlos’ back and one to his shoulder.
To protest his death, Carlo’s family set up three memorials; one in their house in Douglas, one at the site of his murder on the Douglas side, and one opposite of that second site on the side of Mexico. The memorials included flowers, crosses, food, other objects and, on the memorial at the wall on the US side, a message out to the agent who killed Carlos. On July 14th, however, the family received a letter from the Border Patrol giving the family 5 days to remove the memorial on the US side, or the Border Patrol would remove it themselves. The letter read:
“The Border Patrol does not allow anything to be placed on or adjacent to the border fence because such placement negatively impacts operations and creates and unnecessary risk to our agents.”
Charlie Thompson, one of the directors of the DukeEngage program recently arrived in Tucson, AZ. The purpose of his trip was to check on the DukeEngage program but also to “become reacquainted” with the border in hopes to be better able to carry out his new border project. When he commented that he was going to be making a trip down to the wall, I asked him if I could go with him. I had visited the wall in Douglas before, and I wanted to see what the Border Patrol would do if I jumped it into Mexico [of course, I actually wasn’t going to do that…]. The last trip was still fresh on my mind, so I was also going to be able to help Charlie locate the memorial since he wanted to take pictures of it.
When we arrived in Douglas, we first stopped at the Mexican Consulate. We were able to go inside and collect brochures and information on the Consulate and Charlie was also able to obtain permission to take pictures of a couple of the posters in the office. After this, we made our way down F Ave until we came to the wall. We turned left and drove until we came to a Border Patrol truck. Charlie pulled up to him and they both rolled their windows down. After a quick chat, we agreed that the Border Patrol agent was not giving us permissions to drive along the wall, but that we could go ahead and should just look out for restricted areas. The agent would also call in the rest of the patrols and alert them that two tourists from Nevada (as suggested by the license plates of the rental car) would be in the area. We drove off on the dirt road and turned our attention to the wall on the lookout for the memorial. Not long after, we saw it and made our way to it. At the memorial, we got out the car and studied the site. Nothing had changed from the last time I saw it. We walked around and snapped a couple pictures. I was also able to notice that there was another memorial on the other side of the wall, which I had not been able to see the last time I was here because the wall was thick.
Memorial for Carlos LaMadrid
A few minutes into the photoshoot, however, Charlie’s camera ran out of battery. We decided to scout out a McDonald’s and buy a drink while we charged his camera. An hour later, we drove a bit farther to A Ave and then headed back south towards the wall. Here, we decided to head east to check out other parts of the wall including the tank stopper contraptions. We got out of the car a couple of times, Charlie snapped some pictures and I climbed the various versions of the wall in competition against myself to see how fast I could climb it (very fast actually…). At one section of the wall, a Border Patrol truck sped towards us, but instead of stopping or asking us any questions, the agent simply waved at us and continued driving.
When we were done touring, we turned around and made our way back to the memorial to finish taking the pictures Charlie missed when his camera died. A few feet from the memorial, we noticed a black pick-up driving south straight towards the memorial. We slowed down and noticed two ladies jump out of the car with a smaller child. As the group headed straight to the memorial, Charlie asked me if I could ask the women if we could take pictures of their visits for his project. I said sure and grabbed my backpack to start looking for my flipflops. When I got out of the car, I headed towards the lady standing by the cross and I called out “Disculpe” (Excuse me). She turned around and to my very unpleasant surprised she was crying. I stepped back a bit unsure of what to do while the lady stared at me, her eyes red and wet, while the other woman, a younger one, stared suspiciously and a bit angrily at me. I got a little courage and said in Spanish “I’m really sorry. Look, I’m here with this man who is a professor at a university. He is doing a project on immigration issues to shed more light on things like the one that happened here. He would like to know if we can talk to you and maybe take some pictures if it’s ok with you. He would like to use your story maybe in his work so more people hear about these things.” I was expecting the lady to [understandably] turn me away, but instead she said yes and she walked over to the cross and hugged it, ready for the pictures to start. Charlie got out of the car and I told him the lady had agreed. Charlie stopped a bit out of respect and then started taking photos. The lady posed in various way always next to the cross, hugging it, bending down and kissing it and putting her arms around it. In the brief words we exchanged, she mentioned that she had been his “nana,” his grandmother.
The other woman began to trust us a bit more seeing the grandmother cooperate with us and she began to comment to us about the death of Carlos. “They shot him four times in the back you know? That’s how they killed him. And now they want to take this memorial down. Already they took our poster away.” She was referring to the poster that had hung on the wall. On it was a very raw message of the things that must have gone through the head of one of the siblings when they found out about Carlos’ fate. The writing was very representative of a teen texting complete with emoticons, abbreviations and spelling errors. Charlie and I had seen that earlier today, so we explained to the woman that they had actually just taken it a bit ago. This only angered her more.
The mother, in Spanish, then told us a bit more about the incident. He was on the wall when they shot him four times in the back. Then they ran over, handcuffed him, and dragged him to the patrol car as some proceeded to kick him. He yelled out in pain and for help, but no one did anything. The ambulance also took a really long time to get there. At this the other woman, who I now assume was his sister, interjected and stated that he had been a citizen! The siblings all had lived on this side of the border with his grandmother, a couple of blocks from this site.
The conversation changed to the memorial again. Do you get donations to maintain these sites? No, the grandmother said. They took care of everything; they had one on their house, one here and one on the other side. Why had they put one on the other side? I asked. His father lives on the other side, the younger woman claimed, he doesn’t have papers so he can’t visit the memorials here. As we spoke, the boy, about two or three years old, walked around the memorial, unaware of the tense and sad environment above him. That’s Carlos, the younger woman said to her son from time to time. The boy, confused more than anything, would nod and say a couple words and continue to inspect and play in the memorial. My sister in Mexico is doing a big research project on this case and other similar ones, you know, the younger woman said. The grandmother moved back to the memorial and inspected all the candles and other items to check they were unharmed. From time to time she would remember something else and the tears would start again. Charlie turned to me, can you ask her if I can give her a donation? Dice el senor que quiere darle una donacion, para que pueda seguir luchando para que dejen en paz esto. No, said the lady. But Charlie seemed hopeful so I pushed it a bit more. She nodded ‘yes’ slightly and I turned to Charlie and said yes. He took out a $20 bill and handed it to the lady. So you can buy more candles, he told her in Spanish. Mira, me lo dio para que le pongamos velas de su parte [Look, he gave me this so we put some candles from them], said the grandmother to the younger woman. Carlos, mira te van a poner mas velas [Carlos, look, they are going to put more candles from you], the younger girl said to the picture on the cross.
A few minutes later, we ran out of questions. I turned to Charlie and sggested we should leave so the women could spend time with the son by themselves. He agreed and I turned to the woman. She beat me to speak though, and she mentioned that she had a picture of her son on the back of her truck. You should take a picture of that too. Yes, I said. Charlie also took out one of his CDS cards and handed it to the younger woman so the sister doing the research could contact him. The woman nodded yes and said she would make sure that happened. We are going to leave now, so you can be comfortable here, I told the grandmother. She nodded, and I gave her an awkward hug. Thank you she said. Charlie said goodbye to the grandmother too while I went over and shook the hand of the younger woman.
We moved back and made our way to the ladies’ truck. On the full back window was a picture of Carlos dressed in a black dress shirt. In memory of Carlos it said. Charlie snapped a couple of pictures. Look, I then said, pointing to the bumper stickers near the license plates. “Don’t throw rocks! You might get killed!” the stickers read. Charlie changed the focus and also took pictures of this. Quietly, we then moved towards the rental car and boarded it. The women turned around and we took the opportunity to wave goodbye. They waved at us, we drove off, and the women continued giving Carlos some company.