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Two men shot at a group of migrants in West Texas. Residents still don't have answers

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It has been several months since two brothers were arrested in West Texas for a fatal shooting that involved migrants. The men told investigators they thought they were firing at wild animals. One suspect was the warden of the West Texas Detention Center. The other worked for the sheriff. As Angela Kocherga of KTEP reports, people in the town question why the investigation has stalled.

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: It's late afternoon, and golden sunlight reflects off this watering hole in West Texas known as the five-mile tank. The reservoir is about five miles from the town Sierra Blanca. Originally for cattle, wild animals also come here. And sometimes, people stop for a drink of water after crossing a rugged stretch of nearby border. On September 27, a group of 13 migrants were at this spot when they heard gunshots. A man was killed. A woman was wounded.

BILL ADDINGTON: It just makes me sad to come here.

KOCHERGA: More than six months later, residents of the town, like Bill Addington, questioned why the two men arrested in the shooting have not been charged. In fact, the two suspects, brothers Mark and Michael Sheppard, have left Texas. The case against them remains in limbo.

ADDINGTON: They claim they were shooting at javelinas, and I just don't buy it.

KOCHERGA: Mark Sheppard told investigators he and his twin Michael were out on a Tuesday afternoon looking for ducks, then later said javelinas, wild pigs that roamed these parts. He said he was using binoculars when Michael got out of the truck, placed the shotgun on the hood and fired off two rounds. The men then drove away.

ADDINGTON: You know, I know firearms. We used to sell them at our general store.

KOCHERGA: The type of gun used is important because it would indicate how close the men were to their targets. Addington is standing near the edge of the road with the watering hole in full view.

ADDINGTON: A shotgun doesn't have long range.

BERENICE CASIAS CARRILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Berenice Castillo Casias (ph) survived the shooting. She says nobody deserves this. The situation is tense in this border area where she and the other migrants crossed into Texas. She has no doubt they were targeted.

CARRILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: She and the other 11 migrants at the scene later told investigators the men yelled insults at them in broken Spanish before driving off. Investigators used Border Patrol surveillance cameras in the area to locate the truck. The Sheppard twins were accused of manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon, released on bond and returned to Florida, their home state. They have not been indicted. Michael Sheppard, the former warden, refused to answer questions, according to Texas rangers. His lawyer has not responded to numerous calls requesting comment. Mark Sheppard worked for the sheriff in a civilian role. His lawyer said he, quote, "did nothing wrong, period," unquote. And he said his client just happened to be with his brother during what he referred to as a hunting accident.

JOHNY SHEETS: You can say it should've never happened.

KOCHERGA: Mike (ph) Sheets is a county commissioner. He, like many in this rural area, is a gun owner.

SHEETS: They also didn't go by what's supposed to happen with a gun. You identify your target.

NAPOLEON SEPULVEDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Napoleon Sepulveda says the shooting destroyed his family. His son, Jesus, was the man killed. Reached by phone in Mexico, Sepulveda says the 22-year-old left their small farming community headed for Austin to earn money to build a house for his wife and two little girls.

SEPULVEDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Sepulveda asks the U.S. government for justice. The killing has left a scar on Sierra Blanca, says Addington at the watering hole.

ADDINGTON: I'll never look at it the same way I did before.

KOCHERGA: He plans to put up a memorial to mark the spot where a man lost his life. For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Angela Kocherga
Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.
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