A detention center warden in Hudspeth County is one of two men arrested in connection with the attack east of El Paso, a law enforcement official said.
HOUSTON — Two unauthorized migrants were shot, one of them fatally, by two men in a pickup truck that approached them as they walked along a roadway in West Texas, according to court documents filed on Thursday.
After the shooting, which took place on Tuesday evening, the truck was found parked at a home in Hudspeth County, a rural area east of El Paso that runs from the border with Mexico to the state line of New Mexico.
Two men were arrested in connection with the shooting, law enforcement officials said: Michael Sheppard, the warden at a local privately run detention center, and his twin brother, Mark Sheppard.
Both men were charged with manslaughter, according to affidavits filed by investigators in the case. Neither could be immediately reached for comment.
The killing came amid a sharply escalating national debate over the treatment of migrants and how to respond to a record number of asylum seekers and other arrivals at the southern border.
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In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has been busing thousands of migrants, who are awaiting asylum proceedings, north to cities run by Democrats, saying he was doing so to relieve the pressure on resources in often poor rural counties along the border. And earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida arranged for 48 migrants, who had been in San Antonio, to be flown to Martha’s Vineyard.
The migrants who were shot on Tuesday were many miles from the border, according to the affidavits, crossing through the desert in an apparent attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement or border officials.
They were walking in a group along a roadway near Sierra Blanca around 7 p.m. when they stopped at a water tank, according to the affidavits. As the pickup truck approached, the group, which included at least four people, tried to hide. The truck drove by and then stopped and backed up, according to the filings.
The driver then left the pickup truck, according to the affidavits.
During interviews with federal agents, the migrants said that they had heard one of the men shout in Spanish for them to “Come out,” peppering his language with profanity, before revving the engine of the truck, according to the affidavits. The revving of the engine led the migrants to believe that the truck was leaving, at which point, they told investigators, the two shots were fired, according to the affidavits.
The driver leaned on the truck’s hood and fired two shots at the group of migrants before climbing back in and driving away, according to the affidavits.
One shot hit one of the migrants in the head, killing him; another shot hit a female migrant in the stomach, the official said. She was taken to a hospital, where she was recovering, according to a statement from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is investigating the case.
The truck was traced by investigators, working with the U.S. Border Patrol, to a home in Sierra Blanca, the official said.
“We all responded,” First Deputy Chief Lasaro Salgado of the Hudspeth County sheriff’s office said, describing the night of the shooting. “We handed the investigation to the Rangers.”
The deputy said that the Texas Rangers had arrested the Sheppards, both 60.
In their interviews with the police, summarized in the affidavits, the two men said that they had been out looking for animals to shoot, first telling investigators that they had been looking for ducks, and then birds and finally javelinas, hoglike animals that are common to the drier parts of West Texas.
Mark Sheppard said that they had stopped the truck because they believed they had spotted a javelina, according to the affidavits, and he said his brother had left the truck with a shotgun and had fired two times. Neither of them went to check on whether they had struck anything, he said, according to the affidavits.
He denied to the police that either man had yelled anything before opening fire, according to the affidavits, and afterward, the men left to attend a county water board meeting.
The F.B.I., the Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations are assisting in the investigation, according to a spokesman for the Rangers, who declined to provide further details.
Michael Sheppard worked as the warden of the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca, a site run by LaSalle Corrections, a company that operates more than a dozen private detention facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, according to the company’s website.
A spokesman for the company, Scott Sutterfield, said in an emailed statement that Mr. Sheppard had been “terminated due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment” and that no further details could be provided because of the “ongoing criminal investigation.”
Representative Veronica Escobar, whose district includes El Paso and who has been vocal about combating anti-immigration sentiment, called on the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into what she described as an apparent hate crime against migrants.
Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting from San Antonio.