Bloodshed at the border: not headline news

Posted: Aug 16, 2002 12:00 AM
On Aug. 12, CNN aired a "breaking" news conference to update viewers on a matter it considered of global importance: the medical condition of Jason Priestley -- a washed-up, 32-year-old former TV idol who sustained moderate injuries during a Kentucky auto race over the weekend. On Aug. 12, more than 700 mourners from across the country gathered to mark the tragic murder of Kris Eggle -- a 28-year-old National Park Service ranger who was gunned down near the U.S.-Mexico border last week. Not a single national network or cable news station mentioned the memorial service or the outrageous circumstances of Eggle's death. Several Border Patrol veterans and immigration officers e-mailed me with the same frustrated plea: Where's the media? Why does a Hollywood has-been's car crash deserve endless headline news reports, while a young man's sacrifice in defense of our borders earns zero national TV coverage? It is because even after September 11, even after all the newfound appreciation for cops and firefighters and other law enforcement officers, we remain a culture crippled by celebrity worship. Old habits die hard. While Priestley's father and doctors get prime-time air to praise the actor's "courage," none of Eggle's family members or colleagues has been invited on Larry King or Peter Jennings' newscasts to tell of the slain ranger's undaunted heroism. The park where Eggle had been stationed for two years, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona, is considered the most dangerous national park system in the nation, according to a national survey conducted by the Fraternal Order of Police. It is a magnet for illegal aliens and Mexican smugglers; some 200,000 illegal border-crossers and 700,000 pounds of drugs were intercepted at the park last year. Nonetheless, Eggle embraced his job. He was always cheerful, his co-workers said. A "model citizen." A "quintessential American boy-turned-ranger." He baked chocolate chip cookies for fellow rangers and entertained them with songs while on duty. Eggle's father, Robert, said: "Kris was where he wanted to be, and he did what he wanted to do." A native of Cadillac, Mich., where he grew up on his family's 130-year-old farm, Eggle was an Eagle Scout, a high school valedictorian, a devout Baptist, and a champion cross-country runner for the University of Michigan. Former co-workers called the fleet-footed Eggle the "Coyote" in honor of his running prowess. On Aug. 9, Eggle's speed and dedication may have cost him his life. He and three U.S. Border Patrol officers responded after Mexican police reported that two armed fugitives had fled across the border into the U.S. A border patrol helicopter gave chase and directed Eggle and the other officers to where three suspects had ditched their vehicle. The American officers pursued the fugitives on foot as they ran into nearby bushes. One of the Mexican nationals was caught; in the attempt to apprehend the other two, Eggle was ambushed and shot by one of the suspects with an AK-47. The gunfire hit Eggle below his bulletproof vest. He died at the scene before an emergency helicopter arrived. At the memorial service in tiny Ajo, Ariz., this week, Eggle's casket was draped with an American flag -- and topped with the Stetson hat he wore on the job. He will be buried in his hometown in Cadillac, Mich., following funeral services this Saturday. Eggle's murder is not an isolated incident. Several wild shootouts in the Southwest have occurred since April. Our borders remain out of control -- open channels not only for illegal aliens and drug smugglers, but terrorists, too. Invaders are so brazen, say Border Patrol agents, that they've cleared their own roads through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Calls for increased border patrol resources, park ranger staffing and military help have been ignored in Washington. The Bush administration remains far more concerned with appeasing Mexican President Vicente Fox than with protecting American men and women at the border. But I digress from the real news. Back to you, CNN and everybody else, for the latest on Jason Priestley's broken toes.