On December 16, 2003, at approximately 7 p.m., Border Patrol Agent James P. Epling was reported missing after responding to sensor activity along the Colorado River near Andrade, California. Agent Epling had apprehended two Chinese illegal immigrants and had rescued a Chinese illegal immigrant from drowning in the Colorado River. Agent Epling was attempting to apprehend other illegal immigrants along the river when he suddenly disappeared.
A massive rescue operation by Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue teams, as well as multiple local, state, federal, tribal, and foreign agencies, was immediately initiated. This response and coordinated rescue effort continued for three days. On December 19, 2003, at approximately 7:15 p.m., with the aid of an underwater camera, Agent Epling's body was located 29 feet deep in the Colorado River. He was approximately 200 yards from where it was believed he initially disappeared. The investigation revealed that Agent Epling had died as a result of accidental drowning.
Agent Epling was 24 years old and was a graduate of the 537th session of the Border Patrol Academy. On January 28, 2004, his son was born.