Candle lights and phone cameras illuminated the anger and determination the mother and grandmother of a slain 16-year-old boy expressed during a cross-border vigil on Tuesday in Nogales, Mexico.
A full five years since the teen’s death, the family will have to wait even longer for the trial of the man accused of murdering him.
Now, a street-side memorial permanently marks the spot where a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot through the border fence from the U.S. side and killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in Mexico.
Standing next to it, his mother Araceli Rodriguez voiced her frustration and disappointment with news from one week earlier: A federal judge in Tucson delayed again the start of the trial for Lonnie Swartz, the Border Patrol agent accused of gunning down her son.
He is on unpaid leave from the agency.
“I didn’t even want to go (to Tuesday’s hearing), it’s always the same thing,” Araceli Rodriguez said. “I knew that this would happen.”
The criminal trial for Swartz was scheduled to start later this month. He faces a charge of second-degree murder.
On Oct. 3, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins moved the start of the trial to March 2018. Attorneys for Swartz could not be reached for comment. But the Border Patrol said the agentshot at Elena Rodriguez in response to several individuals throwing rocks at Swartz.
Prosecutors conceded earlier this year that the teen was one of three people throwing rocks at agents before the shooting. His mother disputes that, but said that even if he was, Swartz had no right to kill her son.
“How could that person’s life had been threatened? How many rocks could he have thrown over there?” Rodriguez said, pointing to the 25-foot cliff on the U.S. side that overlooks her son’s memorial on the Mexican side.
The location of the shooting could play a critical role in the trial. The Mexican side is at a much lower elevation, so someone throwing rocks would have had to clear not only the height of the cliff, but also the 18-foot fence perched atop it.
The Mexican teen’s grandmother, Taide Elena, told a group of some 40 family members, friends and advocates gathered at the memorial that even though five years have passed since her grandson’s slaying, the family will continue searching for justice.
“We hope that this is the last delay, and that this torture that we’re feeling will end,” she said. “We can’t close this chapter of our lives until this is over.”
Partial video of the shooting showed how — on Oct. 10, 2012 — Swartz fired 16 shots from the Arizona side of the border fence into Mexico. Autopsy results showed 10 of those bullets hit Elena Rodriguez, several of them in his back when he was on the ground.
The teen’s family said he lived a few blocks away from the area.
In addition to the criminal trial, the shooting is the subject of a civil lawsuit. However, that case is making its was through the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
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