Seven U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers exchanged gunfire with a U.S. citizen Monday night at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, killing the 23-year-old after he attempted to shoot his way through the border, authorities said.
The gun battle erupted around 7:30 p.m. in a secondary inspection area at the San Ysidro port, considered the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere.
According to a preliminary investigation, the alleged gunman refused to stop his white pickup for Customs and Border Protection officers as he drove through the port, San Diego police homicide Lt. Matt Dobbs said in a statement released early Tuesday.
The man allegedly steered through the inspection area as officers attempted to stop him and was eventually blocked by another vehicle, Dobbs said.
"The suspect began firing a gun out of his vehicle toward the officers, then exited his vehicle and continued firing at the officers," Dobbs said. "The officers returned fire, striking the suspect."
Seven federal officers engaged in the shootout, Dobbs said. None was injured by the gunfire.
The suspect died at the scene despite the life-saving medical efforts of federal officers, San Diego firefighters and medics, Dobbs said.
San Diego homicide detectives knew the identity of the man who was killed — he was described as a 23-year-old white male U.S. citizen — but his name was not released pending family notifications, Dobbs said Tuesday.
The San Diego Police Department's homicide unit was investigating the shooting, as is typical of most officer-involved shootings in city limits.
A Customs and Border Protection official said federal border authorities were also planning to conduct an internal review, per the agency's policy.
A leader from the San Diego branch of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents Customs and Border Protection officers, said in a text message Monday night that "all officers involved are safe and uninjured."
In a tweet, the union's local chapter president, Jorge Llanos, said Monday that union leaders and an attorney from the Peace Officers Research Association of California were "on site to support our members through this."
Videos posted to social media showed a chaotic scene, with dozens of armed Customs and Border Protection officers appearing to swarm the white pickup, while others appeared to surround someone on the ground a few yards away.
"It sounded like fireworks," said Jesús Gutiérrez, a vendor who sells windshield wipers to motorists waiting on the Mexican side of the border crossing. "We couldn't really understand what was happening."
Marco Sotomayor, Tijuana's public safety secretary, tweeted that Customs and Border Protection agents shut down all entry lanes from Tijuana into the U.S. at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Around 8:20 p.m., he tweeted that the lanes were reopened.
The Customs and Border Protection official said northbound vehicle and pedestrian operations at the port of entry were suspended for about 30 minutes, and the southbound pedestrian and vehicle lanes were never shut down.
Mario Martinez, the director of Tijuana's municipal police, said his officers stationed in the area rushed toward the sound of gunfire before learning it had happened in U.S. territory. He said Tijuana police were told that border officers had stopped a vehicle trying to "pass without permission."
Monday night's shootout was the first of its kind in decades at the San Ysidro border crossing, though federal officers have shot suspects without being fired upon on several more recent occasions.
In 1986, a man shot and wounded three U.S. Customs officers after authorities ran his license plate and learned he was a murder suspect. K.C. Janulaitis opened fire as a lane inspector questioned him. Federal officers returned fire, and he was killed. Janulaitis was wanted in connection with the death of an Orange County fire inspector.
In 2011, Customs officers shot a 47-year-old Tijuana man when he pulled a pistol — later found to be fake — during a struggle with officers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
A few recent shootings have happened after individuals tried to drive through the border, according to authorities.
In 2009, 31-year-old Sergio Guzman Torres was shot by federal officers when he tried to drive a van loaded with unauthorized immigrants through the San Ysidro crossing. One of his passengers was also shot.
Several years earlier, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and a Border Patrol agent fatally shot Oscar Abraham Garcia Barrios, 22, whom they said tried to flee through the port of entry in San Ysidro. Similar shootings happened in 2003 and 1995, as well.
Staff writers Lyndsay Winkley and Merrie Monteagudo contributed to this report.
Jun 04, 2019 5:29 PM - This story was updated with background information about previous shootings at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Jun 04, 2019 1:29 AM - This story and its headline were updated with additional information from the San Diego Police Department.
Jun 03, 2019 10:55 PM - This story was updated with additional details from a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson.
Jun 03, 2019 10:45 PM - This story was updated with additional details from the Customs and Border Protection union leaders and witnesses.
Jun 03, 2019 10:03 PM - This story was updated with additional details.
Jun 03, 2019 9:26 PM - This story was updated with additional details.