Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Homeland Insecurity: The Saftey Status of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park Today - Sierra

Homeland Insecurity: The Saftey Status of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park Today - Sierra
Homeland Insecurity: The Saftey Status of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park Today
By Marthe Dare, Reporter for the Sierra Times

Cadillac Michigan -It will never go away-the lingering pain that Bonnie Eggle feels for the loss of her only son Kris. Fresh in her mind is the thought that her son's death did not have to happen, and should not have happened. If only, she daily laments, America's borders had been secure.
Park Ranger Kris Eggle

Killed Aug 9, 2002
Actions have been taken to commemorate her son, Kris Eggle a park ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Kris was shot to death trying to protect the park after he heard foreign nationals fleeing Mexico had barreled through a huge, gaping hole in the international fence in a SUV. At that time a handful of rangers had the Herculean task of patrolling more than 30 miles of border.

President Bush has signed into law a bill that renames the visitor center at the park to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. Congressmen Pete Hoekstra and Tom Tancredo introduced a bill (H.R. 1577) that would make provisions for an interpretive sign at the trailhead discussing the loss of Eggle and the importance of public law officers. Another memorial to Kris took place in Washington, D.C. in May. His name was inscribed into the National law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall that honors the service and sacrifice of officers that have fallen in the line of duty.

Although in death Kris' is receiving more tributes and national attention than in life, Bonnie Eggle would rather have her son back. Besides being exceptionally good company, Kris was altruistic-a trait one rarely achieves until later years.

Even though being a ranger at Organ Pipe was very demanding, Kris contributed much of his spare time to the Calvary Baptist Church youth group in Ajo. He took children on day hikes and overnight backpacking adventures to help them see how wonderful nature was, directing Bible studies from the mountaintop.

Bonnie remembers, "Many of the families in the church told me that they wished he belonged to them, or they wished their daughter would have married him, or they wished they could clone him!"

Bonnie says that some of the L.E. officials told her that the last cases of Kris' (speeders, DUI, etc.) came to trial after he was dead. Legally, the court must dismiss cases if the arresting officer fails to show. When the judge explained that Kris had been killed, those at trial said they were saddened because Kris had been so respectful to them when writing their tickets. They wanted to do something, so the judge struck a deal with them. Those found guilty would pay half of their fine to the court, and donate the other half to charity work-which went to Ajo.

Bonnie says, "It's bittersweet. We're very sad and still sorrowing. If there is anything to be gained from his death, it's that people will recognize what is happening at Organ Pipe."

Since Kris' death, Bonnie has been a relentless crusader for securing America's borders and national parks, so that other park rangers and U.S. citizens will not be needlessly slain by illegal entrants she calls "illegal invaders."

The date, August 9th, 2002, will always be fresh in her mind and to her every bit as horrific as 9/11/01. It was the day that her son's killers drove right into America with a stolen vehicle because there was a twenty-foot hole, among many breaks in the fence that separate the park from the Mexican State of Sonora. When their SUV got stuck, the illegal entrants hid in thick vegetation. One ambushed Kris and shot him with an AK47-a bullet ricocheting up Kris' bulletproof vest. A year later, the same, massive open door in the international fence is still there, welcoming criminal entry.

Bonnie declares, "This murderer was a hired assassin for a drug cartel in Sonoyta who had already been involved in quadruple murders the evening before." She pleads for United States citizens to drop the "politically correct" notion that just innocent farm laborers are sneaking across the border.

Last June, the US Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, listed Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as the most dangerous park in America for the third year in a row. Despite congressional hearings where tapes were shown of hundreds of aliens tramping through the park every night and significant media coverage after Kris' death, Organ Pipe is still teeming with drug smugglers and illegal aliens that Bonnie Eggle feels are posing a threat to homeland security.

Bonnie has been interviewed by 20/20 for a television special on crime in the National Parks and she has a website about Kris at She loses weight as she continues her relentless vigil to make certain that everyone in America wakes up to the terrible truth that our borders are not secure. At an anti crime conference, Bonnie has visited with Asa Hutchison, Security Chief of Homeland Security, summarizing what happened to Kris and addressing the need for border security. She has contacted senators and congressmen and told her son's story to anyone who would listen.

Finally some of the powers that rule the US are beginning to get the message. Recently, FBI Director, Robert Mueller called the US/Mexico Border the nation's first line of defense against terrorists. At a Border Terrorism Conference in San Antonio the nation's top security leaders are meeting to discuss border security. There was speculation that AlQaeda could be planning to hijack a jet in Mexico and crash it into the United States. Some at the top are now concerned that terrorists posing as illegal immigrants may try to sneak across the Southern border. "There's people from all over the world that cross that border," said US Attorney, Johnny Sutton.

Dale Thompson, 60, former Chief Ranger at Organ Pipe National Monument accepted mandatory retirement last December, and is currently Superintendent of Coronado National Memorial Park. Thompson says, "This is my 3rd border park. For employee safety, Organ Pipe National Monument is the most dangerous." He, like Bonnie, says his goal is to raise awareness in heartland America of the dangers in today's parks with boundaries along an international line. "They know we have a problem, but it's not in their back yard."

Thompson's voice is full of pathos. "Kris died for his country just like a soldier. It's amazing, because Kris was above the rest. In his spare time he would drive 35 miles to the nearest town and go to church groups and work with kids. He was a runner, so he would get them involved in athletics and then take them out in the desert give them an appreciation of nature. Kris would bring the kids to the park, and they'd help him clean up trash left on paths made by illegal immigrants. We lost a good one."

Thompson explains that the fateful day Kris was shot, Kris did not know that the border crashers were extremely dangerous fugitives. "Here's the bottom line. Kris was armed, but he didn't know that these drug runners had killed 4 people the day before. We cannot assume that it wouldn't have happened, because Ranger Eggle was one of the best rangers we've ever seen, and he had certain comforts there--officers on the ground and a helicopter over head. Why was he shot? There is no explanation for it."

Bonnie feels differently. She contends that if a vehicle barrier had secured the border, Kris would still be alive. "The Members of Congress, especially those on the Appropriations Committees have failed miserably to fund the National Park Service properly to make these areas safer for the worker and visitors. They have been approached several times in the past, the last two times in '98 and '99, for extra funding for the anti-vehicle barrier to go the full length of the border at Organ Pipe (31 miles). They turned it down these two times and previously, even though reports and studies were done that showed a terrible increase in crime, violence, and drugs coming through the Border Parks. They said, "No, It is too costly. We will just do another study and research it some more."

Thompson discloses that while he was Chief at Organ Pipe he had requested additional funding for park security before Kris' death. Regarding the budget for 2002, Thompson says, "Parks put in justifications for certain things. At Organ Pipe our major problem is the border. I had written requests for monies in 2001, and when Kris was shot they took two of those and combined them, and they authorized $ 900,000 additional monies for law enforcement activities at Organ Pipe."

Thompson claims that funding for the barrier today is not new funding. "We didn't get new appropriations. The park service in Washington moved it from one pocket to another-reprogrammed it--from some source like construction. Some other park maybe didn't get a visitor center."

Bill Mikus, Facility Manager at Organ Pipe reports that they desperately need railroad rails donated so that they can complete building a vehicle barrier. Anyone that might be able to help donate can call Mikus at (520) 387-7661, extension 7401. Currently, they only have 6 miles of railroad rails donated, and they require 24 more miles to complete the vehicle barrier. To date, donations have been made by the Southern Nevada Railroad Museum, the Arizona/California Railroad, Burlington Northern Railroad and Hill Air Force Base, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mikus says, "Other donations that we need are sources of pipes used as bollards-bumpers like those that protect a gas pump. We need pipe and rebar stock to use in conjunction with the bollards."

Mikus says that it's a shame that Kris had to die. "It always takes someone killed at a traffic intersection before they put in a stop light."

Regarding the endless trek of illegal border crossers on foot, Thompson estimates there are, "At least 400 to 500 undocumented aliens that cross into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Park from Mexico every day. He mentions that while patrolling during the evening rangers used night vision goggles that worked off of ambient starlight. "We would see as many as 150 illegal aliens coming across in a group at one time."

Thompson states that in 2002, Organ Pipe may have not had that many rangers, but just 5 confiscated 13 thousand pounds of marijuana in one year. "That's enough marijuana to fill up two semi trailer trucks." Thompson reports that all of the other agencies combined--Border Patrol, US Customs, Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Department, seized another 70 thousand pounds.

Thompson explains that park rangers working a border park have responsibilities that exceed their job description. "Pound for pound seized, Organ Pipe Rangers were as efficient in drug interdiction as any drug government agent on the border. Why are park rangers seizing drugs? It's out of necessity."

Border Patrol agents were present in the park, but usually only one or two during the day. Sometimes, there were as many as 20 Border Patrol agents when they had special operations that monitored high traffic areas of illegal entry.

Thompson utters an ironic and disturbing statement. "A park visitor at Organ Pipe is as safe as someone in the middle of the night in a downtown urban environment in the US." He mentions that it is no longer safe in Phoenix and the cities where all of the illegal drugs and illegal entrants are congregating. Soon, he surmises, maybe Americans will wake up and see what is happening.

Thompson agrees with Bonnie Eggle: the tumble down, torn barbed wire fence along the international border leaves the US vulnerable. "With any opening that allows a vehicle to drive through, the chances of transporting arms are greater. It is a Homeland Security issue."

Thompson remembers that SUV's and semi trailer rigs would skulk down the park road at night and then blast into Mexico through the breaches in the international fence selling export merchandise. "The only truck we were able to stop had athletic shoes. The entry across borders goes both ways at that park."

Fred Patton, residing Chief Ranger at Organ Pipe National Monument Park reports they will be recruiting more rangers. "The objective is to triple the staff from what there was last summer. We're already to 15, and we will hire 2 more this fall."

When asked if he would like an even larger staff, Patton responds, Would I hire more rangers if I could, yes! Could I use more, absolutely. The Law Enforcement Needs Assessment for the park indicates a need for a ranger staff of 20. However, that assessment does not come with the funding for those positions."

Kris was slain a few miles east of Lukeville, closer to Gachado Well and the Camino des Republicas. Patton says that since Eggle's death that area of the park is closed to the public, and, "We're not looking at opening it right now. Our visitation is down, but we have to be careful to assign a reason for that."

Patton acknowledges there is a vehicle barrier project out for contract bid right now that is planned for construction this fall at the international line. Patton reports, "It won't be a concrete wall per se, depending upon what the ground is like. It will run about 30 miles. Welded railroad steel rails will be secured as vertical posts in concrete footers."

Patton-who has been the Chief Ranger since May-says he wouldn't be at Organ Pipe unless he didn't have some optimism that good things will happen. He praises his staff. They are dedicated and know the issues. Yet Patton is quick to point out, "In most parks where there is a criminal activity that is impacting the resources of the park, it's usually easier to put a stop to it. Here we have an endless source of activity coming across the border; it's more difficult to control the influx of illegal aliens and drug trafficking." Illegal traffic is cutting new trails on parkland and leaving hundreds of pounds of trash that is damaging desert environment.

Patton said he did not have exact figures on hand but he did say, "We've had numerous felony arrests since January. We have confiscated thousands of pounds of predominately marijuana."

Patton adds, "Post 911, all of us are concerned about the integrity of our borders and the access of people that would care to do us harm. "The Department of Homeland Security is ultimately responsible for protecting our borders. On a day to day basis, we are also concerned about the integrity of our borders. Our responsibility is to protect the resources of the park that are destroyed by countless illegal aliens and drug trafficking as well." The Sonoran Pronghorn antelope, an endangered species, has had its feeding and breeding grounds significantly reduced because of all of the human activity. Trash is everywhere. Some of the springs along the migrant route show high levels of fecal coliform. One pair of tiny cactus pigmy owls--of which only 4 pairs exist in the park-did not nest after increased human traffic. Ocotillo shrubs and saguaro cactus have been mowed down by foot trails and car tracks.

Patton is quick to say that rangers have had, and currently have, all of the supplies that they require to do a good job. "Kris had the same equipment, training, and weapons that the current rangers have. " Chief Patton explains that rangers carry the same weapons that all but the most specialized law enforcement team carry. The semi-automatic pistols are industry standard and rangers have carried them for years.

Patton refutes the accusations that rangers are ill trained. He assures that, "Rangers have yearly refresher hours of training. In addition everybody on our staff attends the park service special operations where they learn team movement, tracking, and interdiction training."

Kris actually worked for me before I came down here. "Each of us have a strong personal feeling about our relationship with Kris. I consider him a wonderful friend and a very good man."

Patton continues, "I know Bonnie and Bob, and I continue to talk to them on a regular basis, and they have done a great job on issues regarding the security of our borders by keeping issues in front of the media. We focus on the job we have to do here. My staff is well trained, has good equipment, and they are physically fit."

Ranger Bo Stone who was on duty the day Kris was murdered says, "Since Kris' death all law enforcement rangers have moved on, except myself. Since that time we have hired one new Chief Ranger, two supervisory rangers (one is myself, the other will start in October) and 10 new park rangers. We will hire two more in October/November and another two around the first of the year. Our final total will be 17 to 18 rangers, including supervisors.

Although some newspapers have reported a 50% drop in park attendance, Ranger Stone says, "I have not noticed a decline in visitor use at Organ Pipe. I believe the economy directly effects visitor use by cost of gas/ etc." Stone states that visitors are still allowed to camp in some remote areas of the park. They must purchase a permit and speak to a law enforcement ranger about safety. Ranger Stone says, "The more pristine areas for camping are found in the northern portion of the park away from the border, but some safety concerns are the same for all areas of the park."

Besides the vehicle barrier, the hiring of additional rangers, the closing border roads to public use, and public awareness through informative signing Ranger Stone adds, "Our new policies for Ranger and employee safety include working in pairs when on the border and always having a radio. We are sending one ranger to a firearms instructor program and also to an advanced defensive tactics instructor training program to train new rangers here in safety. We have purchased many new rifles, shotguns and body armor for all new rangers, but this is what we had for rangers in the past."

Stone sound heroic and a tad too optimistic when he says, "The 2004 budget will not be here until after October, but we have been "promised" that it will be the same as last year, which means we should be okay."

Recently, Bonnie attended a memorial at Organ Pipe Visitor Center for her son. Rangers who knew Kris were there, including Bo Stone and Dale Thompson. Bonnie says, "There were many more people than were expected--a rough estimate was around 200 plus, and it was supposed to be a small commemoration, with the larger one being in November at the renaming dedication service."

Bonnie exclaims, "The whole service was beautiful. Many rangers, including Dale and Bill Wellman (Superintendent) spoke about Kris the person, and Kris the ranger. The comments were emotional, funny, and very serious. The music touched our hearts. We had a favorite song of Kris' played ("I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLachlan), Dave Hutson, Chief Interpretive and Resource Ranger sang "Wish You Were Here"--as though Kris were singing to us. The Ajo youth from his church signed "God Bless the USA" while Caleb Kesler--dear friend and ranger--sang the words.

Mourning over a Fallen Park Ranger

Photo by
The unveiling of a memorial tribute to Kris outside the Visitor's Center was terribly touching and emotional as well for all those in attendance. A bronzed Stetson and plaque talking about Kris' life and death rests on a huge boulder from Organ Pipe.

Grateful for the media coverage, Bonnie says that it has been helpful. "Each time a door is opened, we know we must accept and go through it. Kris would want that too because he wanted to do things to help others, and we have pledged to follow his footsteps and try to do the same. This mission is working toward that goal."

Bonnie concedes, "Some improvements are being made. More need to be done, but we have to say we feel some people are beginning to listen."

Yet Bonnie wonders, are the Regional Directors and Managers willing to put funding where it is needed most? "That is what we are pushing hard for. Congress still doesn't seem to want to answer a lot of questions, but that is not stopping us from asking."

Today in pre-911 times, open border advocates still argue that there is no connection between controlling illegal immigration and protecting national security. They continue to say that only millions of "good" low wage Hispanic workers are crossing illegally in remote desert areas. However, there are OTM's (other than Mexicans) that may be seeking to destroy us who are filtering in and are hardly discernible among the millions of immigrants.

Rarely mentioned, there is now a special designation for illegals that pose a threat. Special Interest Alien (SIA) is the current, pleasant euphemism for undocumented foreign terrorists.

Ranger Stone, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument reports, "We have caught Chinese, Polish, and I know that aliens from Yemen have been caught leaving the US by Mexican port authorities. I have heard of aliens from Afghanistan being caught over at Coronado National Park."

Ranger Stone says that he does not have exact figures but he guesses that approximately 3% of those coming across in Organ Pipe are drug runners. "They park their vehicles containing drugs at the Phoenix airport, and another group will come in and pick it up. There could be a bomb instead of drugs in there. Or there could be terrorist in the trunk of a car. If people smugglers can get 10 million Hispanics through the desert every year, it is definitely possible that terrorists could be smuggled in for money, too."

Bonnie does have a growing number of allies. Among them Tancredo, R-CO, Chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. Tancredo has called for a crackdown along the US/Mexican border and for the use of military patrols.

Bonnie urges Americans to ask Congress why it does not relieve tax paying US citizens of the burden of providing hospital care for illegal aliens when many US citizens do not have health coverage. Some members of Congress are trying to make illegal aliens eligible for in-state tuition rates at publicly funded colleges and universities.

Now, there is talk about giving those who have overstayed their visa amnesty when 3 of the 9/11 hijackers overstayed their visas. There is a push in government to give amnesty to those who entered the US illegally, although the New York subway bombing conspirators were from such a group. Currently there is the notion of granting a worker permit for those who have worked in the US illegally-forgetting that several of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers were illegal workers. Additionally, The United States is considering looking the other way at those who have failed to maintain their lawful visa status, such as 2 of the 9/11 hijackers. In California, illegals are being considered for driver's licenses. There has also been a near total elimination of employer sanctions enforcement for businesses that employ illegal labor. US laws are being ignored.

However, Bonnie keeps pushing. She attended a Memorial Day Service in Washington DC during National Police Officer's Week, with President Bush as the keynote speaker. There was a changing of the guard with officers from the Capitol Police and it was mentioned how important law enforcement officers are to the security of our homeland. Bonnie reports, "President Bush did a good job of talking about how essential these brave men and women are to making all of us have a more secure way of life. I was disappointed, however, when he again did not mention the problems on the borders which causes much of the crime in the cities and communities thought this nation."

After President Bush's speech, Bonnie says that he came down to the surviving families' section and allowed for many pictures, hugs, reassurances and tiny chats. "Bob (her husband), Jennifer (her daughter), and I worked ourselves up to greet him and were able to have a couple minutes of his time. We had no camera, but our purpose was not a photo op. It was to remind him about the horrid condition on our borders and how he needed to help secure them so the dangers would be lessened for our Law Enforcement Officers/Rangers, visitors, and American citizens living there."

A Tribute to those

Who Made the Sacrifice
Bonnie introduced her family and then told about Kris and where he was murdered. "My sister-in-law Marsha had made pins with Kris' picture, name and date of birth and death. I gave one to President Bush and asked him to remember our Kris' sacrifice for this country, and to think about the terrible loss for all of us who are left."

Bonnie declares, "I believe whole heatedly in secure borders with military personnel guarding the length of them. We can do this in Afghanistan, in Korea, and in Iraq. If your military is good enough for the protection of foreign countries from terrorists and terror, why shouldn't it be good enough for America?"


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