CBP’s ‘Instantaneous’ Response in El Paso
In the minutes after the first deadly gunshots rang out at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and agents were among the very first responders on the scene. As the city’s police department moved quickly to the tragedy, CBP El Paso Special Response Team members became part of a multi-agency law enforcement tactical response to help the police department. Agents in the Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma, and Rescue and Tactical Units – better known as BORSTAR and BORTAC – soon joined the group, as well as agents from CBP’s Air and Marine Operations units in the area.
“Our response was instantaneous,” CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said in a videotape message for all employees. “More than 135 CBP employees were there within minutes, providing tactical, medical, and peer support,” as well as critical assistance to law enforcement partners on the scene and in the air.
One CBP employee specially recognized was Donna Sifford, a port director at the nearby Marcelino Serna/Tornillo, Texas, port of entry. She was off-duty and shopping in Walmart when the shooting transpired.
“I ran through the auto department door, and there was Donna, my guardian angel,” Christopher Grant told CNN from his hospital bed as he recovered from gunshot wounds. Grant tried to distract the shooter by throwing water bottles at him and was shot himself. “She went to work, did her job and patched me up, took me to shelter and covered me. I honestly think she saved my life. She was there for me. She never left my side,” he said, choking back tears.
“We heard the gunshots happening,” Sifford told CNN. “We were trying to get as many people as we could out. We were just in ‘go mode.’ I just did exactly what CBP taught me to do.”
As the shooting transpired, the Special Response Team – trained in tactical active shooter response – mobilized its assets and supported the local police department with building sweeps and setting up perimeter security. The team initiated a procedure to ensure all CBP personnel in the area were safe and accounted for. They also directed full outbound inspections at all area ports, a protocol in case suspects attempt to flee the country.
Requested by the El Paso Police Department to render assistance, Border Patrol agents were on the scene just minutes after the shooting occurred. In the searing 100-plus degree temperatures and high humidity, they provided medical support, perimeter security, and support to local law enforcement to secure the scene and ensure public safety.
Air and Marine Operations Huey helicopter crews provided an eye-in-the-sky over operations at the scene. The air branch’s agents also coordinated communications between various law enforcement aircraft, directing the assets based on requests coming from the ground. Air crews helped collect evidence and documented the scene.
The El Paso area is home to about 3,600 CBP employees, serving as one of the city’s largest employers. Acting Commissioner Morgan said his agency is part of the very fabric of the community.
“This horrific, hate-fueled attack was profoundly personal for us,” he said, pointing out five family members of CBP employees were killed in the shooting. He said it is a reminder to stay vigilant. “Vigilance does not stop when your shift ends or when you take off your uniform. It’s not just about the people we work with; it’s about our families, friends, and community. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone impacted by these horrific events.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between official ports of entry. CBP is charged with securing the borders of the United States while enforcing hundreds of laws and facilitating lawful trade and travel.