TUCSON - A pickup packed with nearly two dozen suspected illegal immigrants and smugglers was ambushed by gunmen early Friday, killing two and leaving at least one other person wounded, authorities said.
A man and a woman were confirmed killed in the incident, which was reported to Pima County sheriff's officials just after 5 a.m., deputy Dawn Barkman said.
The 23 people investigators believe were in the truck included 20 members of three families from the Mexican state of Chiapas who had crossed into the U.S. on foot near Sasabe and were picked up by two or three smugglers late Thursday, sheriff's Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar said. They included three children in the cab of the truck, where one of the two people killed was sitting where they were shot.
The wounded person was hospitalized, and one of the smugglers also is thought to have been wounded in the hand, but he has not been caught.
The truck had reached the Green Valley area about 20 miles south of Tucson when shots began hitting the vehicle, Kastigar said.
Members of the group described bullets cutting into the rear of the pickup as the driver tried to flee, Kastigar said. Detectives don't know if the assailants were in another vehicle or on foot when they sprang the ambush.
The pickup driver sped off when the shots rang out, then stopped and the people inside ran into the desert.
When deputies arrived they found the two dead and the wounded person.
U.S. Border Patrol agents helped search for survivors and a sheriff's airplane was brought in to assist, Kastigar said. While deputies and agents were trying to sort out the shooting scene and find victims, several other unrelated groups of immigrants stumbled into the area and were taken into custody.
Investigators don't have a description of the assailants and are still interviewing the victims. None of the suspected smugglers have been identified, and so far none of the victims have been able to say what might have prompted the attack.
Attacks on migrants making their way into Arizona have become increasingly common in recent years, and several incidents have been reported this year. Often, rival smugglers try to take the load of migrants to hold for ransom or just steal their cash.
A similar incident on Feb. 8 left three dead and two others wounded northwest of Tucson, and no arrests have been made. There are no suspects in Friday's shooting either.
"For a number of years we have been seeing a flood of undocumented immigrants coming into the United States and criminals are becoming more brazen" in their attacks on them, Kastigar said.