Couple’s mishap should serve as warning

Freedom Newspapers

More than a week has passed since Tiffany Young-Hartley reported her husband was fatally shot as they rode personal watercraft on International Falcon Reservoir, southeast of Laredo, Texas.

She has made the rounds of national news shows describing the attack on the two of them, and demanding that her husband’s body be turned over to her.

Supporters have rallied in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and in Colorado, the couple’s original home, demanding resolution. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, never one to pass up an opportunity to grandstand, has demanded that Mexican authorities produce the body.

Meeting those demands, however, could be a challenge, and might never be met.

Hartley reported that on Sept. 30, she and her husband David rode their vehicles to Old Guerrero, on the Mexican side of the lake. Three boats chased them and shot at them as they headed back to U.S. waters, and the husband was fatally struck in the head.

Mexican officials have said they’ve looked for a body, but bandits and pirates have hindered their efforts. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday it was opening its own investigation into the incident, and denied allegations that it wasn’t doing enough to find the body. Tiffany Hartley said her husband was wearing a life vest, and neither he nor the watercraft has been found.

To all the people demanding rapid resolution, David Hartley is a special person, and their desire to see his body is understandable. People who live along the Rio Grande, however, know why Mexicans prefer to call it El Rio Bravo — the ferocious river; literally thousands of people have been swallowed up in its waters. An often deceptively calm surface masks violent undertows; recent releases of water through the dams have only made those currents stronger.

Could a life preserver be stripped from a body that’s being swept through a river filled with debris and branches? It might be unusual, but not inconceivable. The attackers might have taken the vehicle for their own use; they might also have taken the body, although doing so would have been unusual.

The bodies of some people who tried to cross the river have been found miles downriver from where they entered. Some have even been swept out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The water carries its contents through a mesh of reeds, plants and debris that can grab and hold anything. Foreign plants dumped in the river, including carrizo cane and hydrilla, have become especially invasive; even boats have been entangled in the plants’ grasp.

Dozens — sometimes hundreds — of bodies are pulled out of the river every year. Officials say, however, that only a small fraction of those who are believed to have died in the river are ever found.

Some people have questioned Tiffany Hartley’s actions since she reported the attack. She’s acknowledged that she has no proof of what happened, and one interviewer on a national news program even asked her directly if she had anything to do with her husband’s disappearance.

So far investigations have raised more questions than answers. Given the circumstances, this case could take a while to resolve.

That won’t be good news to David Hartley’s family and supporters, but it should serve as a reminder to anyone who might consider venturing out into our border waters: The Rio Bravo answers to no one.