Jared Taylor / The Monitor
PHARR — A police officer watched the blue Chevrolet pickup truck speed against traffic toward the checkpoint at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge shortly after noon Wednesday.
Inside was Sam Davis and his wife, Nancy, who was still alive after suffering a gunshot to her head about 70 miles south of the Rio Grande, police said.
The rural Monte Alto couple worked as missionaries in Mexico for more than three decades.
“We’re glad he was able to get to our bridge and we were able to get the medical assistance for his spouse,” Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas said. “However, this tragically ended with a perishing end.”
The couple was returning from a mission near San Fernando, about 70 miles south of Reynosa, police said.
On the outskirts of the city of about 30,000 residents, the missionaries encountered a drug cartel checkpoint and refused to stop, authorities said.
Several men in a black pickup truck tailed the couple past the impromptu checkpoint and opened fire. Sources said at least five gunshots struck the back of the missionaries’ pickup truck, leaving it “riddled with bullets.”
The missionaries may have been fortunate to escape the region and avoid kidnapping.
The greater San Fernando area gained notoriety in August, when 72 migrants were found slain in a mass grave on a ranch outside the city.
The region is under the control of the organized crime, at least two drug smuggling organizations that dominate and openly battle for control over northeast Mexico.
In November, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for overland travel along the highways that lead into San Fernando, saying highway robberies and carjackings are common in the area.
The missionaries’ chase across northern Tamaulipas state is the latest chapter involving U.S. citizens caught in the crossfire of Mexico’s drug war.
In October, so-called drug cartel “pirates” attacked Tiffany Young-Hartley and David Hartley on Falcon Reservoir. The McAllen couple allegedly fell under attack from cartel gunmen on the lake, leaving David Hartley and his personal watercraft missing since. Young-Hartley escaped unscathed and the case remains unsolved — with Hartley widely presumed dead — after its lead Mexican investigator was decapitated in the days after the incident.
Also in October, University of Texas at Brownsville student Jonathon William Torres Cazarez died when his passenger bus was hijacked near Ciudad Mante, a city in southern Tamaulipas state. He was one of two people reportedly slain on the bus.
Across Mexico, about 35,000 people have been killed in drug violence since late 2006.
Pharr police, CBP officers and agents with the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continue to investigate the case.
Villescas said he was waiting to learn Wednesday evening which Mexican agency would lead the investigation. Mexican investigators contacted Wednesday evening said they had not learned of the missionaries’ attack.
The Mexican interior ministry’s office issued a statement Wednesday night, saying the government “regrets” Nancy Davis’ death.
“The interior ministry reports that authorities are investigating the case for the purpose of clarifying facts and will act accordingly to punish the person or persons responsible,” the statement reads in Spanish.
Mexican army officials in Reynosa said they had not been alerted of the attack Wednesday afternoon, but speculated drug cartel gunmen were behind it.
Military officer Santiago Santa Maria said no violent incidents had been reported to his office since Monday, but did reckon that drug cartels were likely behind the attack.
“Sometimes, it’s their people,” Santa Maria said in Spanish, referring to drug smugglers. “But since the populace is intimidated by them, nobody says anything. The media will not report anything until two or three days later.”
Word of the attack on the missionaries spread quickly via the Internet early Wednesday afternoon.
An online post on Twitter by the Beavertown God’s Missionary Church in Beavertown, Pa., lamented Nancy Davis’ slaying.
“Missionary Nancy Davis has gone to Heaven as a martyr,” the online post states. “This afternoon, after 38 years of missionary service she paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
The couple founded the Gospel Proclaimers Missionary Association in March 1988, according to the nonprofit group’s articles of incorporation.
The group was founded to establish and maintain missions in foreign countries by conducting camps, operating orphanages and “caring for the poor and needy and the distributing of bibles.”
The Davis’ pastor, Jeff Leonard of Pharr, briefly stopped at their home west of Monte Alto late Wednesday afternoon. He declined comment on the situation, deferring to relatives, who he said were distraught at their sudden loss.
A religious man himself, Villescas called Davis and his wife “true warriors for Christ.”
“Their faith must be strong,” the chief said.
El Nuevo Heraldo staff writer Martha L. Hernandez contributed to this report.
- U.S. missionary slain while fleeing Mexico gunmen (chron.com)
- Husband: U.S. missionary shot by gunman in Mexico (ctv.ca)
- Husband: US missionary fatally wounded in Mexico (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- U.S. missionary shot in Mexico, dies in Texas (reuters.com)
- U.S. missionary shot in Mexico, dies in Texas (msnbc.msn.com)