CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Mexico on Tuesday strongly condemned the US Border Patrol's "disproportionate" use of force after an agent shot dead a 14-year-old Mexican boy who was throwing rocks on a bridge linking the two nations.
The boy died after a border patrol officer opened fire from the El Paso, Texas, side of the border on a group who "threw stones" while apparently trying to enter the United States illegally from Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican Foreign Ministry said.
"The use of firearms to repel attacks with stones represents a disproportionate use of force," the ministry said in a statement.
Lou Patch, a supervisory Border Patrol agent in El Paso, confirmed that at least one agent opened fire during the Monday incident and said an investigation was underway, headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Patch told AFP that agents were "performing bike patrol duties" on the bridge when they were "assaulted with rocks by an unknown number of people."
"During the assault at least one agent discharged his firearm," he said.
The agent was placed on administrative leave and "a thorough multi-agency investigation is ongoing," he added.
Mexican officials said that according to witness statements, the US agents on bicycle pursued the youths toward Mexico and that two of them opened fire.
Mexican state police had earlier provided a different version of events, saying the boy had been playing with two other youths on the Puente Negro bridge spanning the Rio Grande.
Ciudad Juarez's attorney general's office also said the youths were playing when they strayed into US territory inadvertently, and ran back toward the Mexican side after being surprised by the US agents.
The victim's parents said their son was killed inside Mexico and that he had no intention of crossing the border.
Jesus Hernandez, the father, told W Radio his son went to the bridge to have lunch with his brother, who works nearby. At one point, "he went to the river bank to look to the other side.
"There were lots of kids and the border patrol cop... started firing off shots and hit my son, my baby twice in the head."
Hernandez said Mexican authorities had yet to contact the family about the incident.
The US State Department said US agents responded to "a group of suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico."
It said in a statement that "the agents were reportedly assaulted with rocks by an unknown number of people. During the assault, an agent discharged his firearm, killing one of the suspects. We regret the loss of life."
The teenager's death comes on the heels of a US investigation into the beating death last week in San Diego, California of Hernandez Rojas, a 42-year-old Mexican father of five in Border Patrol custody for deportation for crossing the border illegally.
Mexico's foreign ministry said the cases of Mexicans killed or injured in incidents involving use of force by US authorities have risen, "from five in 2008 to 12 in 2009 and 17 so far this year."
The increasing frequency of such incidents "reflects a disturbing increase in the use of excessive force by some authorities in the border area," the ministry said.
An estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants live in the United States. Roughly half a million people attempt to cross the 3,200-kilometer (2,000-mile) border from Mexico into the United States each year, according to official figures.
US President Barack Obama has ordered the deployment of up to 1,200 more troops on the border with Mexico to battle drug trafficking.
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