SALT LAKE CITY — Border Patrol agent Nicholas J. Ivie was called to serve in his LDS Church ward bishopric less than two months ago and Sunday was leading church services as second counselor in his Arizona ward.
Two days later the former Provo resident was being mourned by family and friends and a nation still in search of solutions to secure its porous border. Ivie was shot and killed near Bisbee along the U.S.-Mexico line, becoming the 26th agent to die in the line of duty since 2002.
Sierra Vista Arizona Stake President Kevin Goates said Tuesday he was in that church meeting that Ivie conducted in the Sierra Vista 2nd Ward.
"I was thinking what a great man this is and how faithful he was serving," Goates said Tuesday. "It's just a shock to see him gone so abruptly."
Ivie, 30, was killed after he and two other agents responded to an alerted ground sensor while on patrol shortly before 2 a.m. in the remote desert near Bisbee, about 100 miles southeast of Tucson. The area is frequented by cross-border drug smugglers, authorities said.
A second agent was shot in the ankle and buttocks and was airlifted to a hospital and later released. The agents were assigned to the newly dedicated Brian Terry Station, named after an agent who was killed in the line of duty in December 2010.
Ivie grew up in Provo and attended Timpview High School. He and his wife, Christy, are the parents of two daughters, ages 4 and 20 months. His parents and some of his siblings live in Utah, mostly Utah County. Ivie was the youngest in his family.
"We are extremely proud of Nick and for his service both in his community and our country," Ivie's sister-in-law, Corinne Ivie, said in a family statement. "He loved what he did and gave it his all, including his life. Right now our thoughts and prayers are with his wonderful wife and his two beautiful girls. We would also like to thank everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support and love."
His older brother, Joel Ivie, also works for the Border Patrol and steered him toward that career, said Doyle Davis, whose son is married to Ivie's sister. Border Patrol officials said Ivie worked for the agency since January 2008.
In a news conference, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Cmdr. Jeffrey Self said Ivie died "at the hands of criminals" operating near the border.
"Agent Ivie died in the line of duty protecting our nation against those who threaten our way of life," Self said. "His death will strengthen our resolve to enforce the rule of law and bring those responsible to justice."
James Turgal, special agent in charge of the FBI's Phoenix Division, pledged resources from across the country to assist in the investigation. Turgal would not comment on reports that Mexican authorities have two men in custody.
Davis said Ivie was good with horses and was on horseback when he was shot.
"He was a great kid," Davis said.
Turgal offered few details about the shooting during a Tuesday news conference. He said Ivie was in rugged terrain but wouldn't say why he was there or what he was doing. Investigators, he said, were still going over the crime scene and it could take as long as two days to complete the task.
Self said Tuesday was a long day for Customs and Border Protection.
"But it's been longer for no one more than a wife whose husband is not coming home," he said. "It's been longer for no one more than two children whose father is not coming home."
Those who knew Ivie had nothing but praise for the type of man he was.
"He has a personality that just makes you want to love him and appreciate him," Goates said.
"Everybody loved him. He was very kind, always reaching out to other people, and a wonderful, wonderful dad," said Marlee Forsberg, who plays on the same soccer team as Christy Ivie in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Forsberg's husband, Spencer, serves as bishop of the Sierra Vista 2nd Ward. She said her husband didn't know Ivie before calling him to serve in the bishopric because they came from different wards that were combined in August.
Marlee Forsberg said she visited with Christy Ivie on Tuesday morning.
"She's doing as good as you can be. She's very strong. She's always had a very strong testimony," she said.
Goates, the stake president, also spent time at the Ivie home Tuesday talking with Christy.
"She has a strong faith in the future and knows that her marriage will endure beyond the grave," Goates said.
The U.S. government has put thousands of sensors along the border that, when tripped, alert dispatchers that they should send agents to a particular location. The area near the shooting is scattered with houses, trailers and ranchettes. Mesquite trees and creosote bushes dotted the landscape, and a mountain range stands nearby to the west.
Tuesday's shooting occurred after an alarm was triggered on one of the many sensors along the border and three agents went to investigate, said Cochise County Sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas. It is not known whether the agents returned fire, Capas said.
The agents who were shot were on patrol with a third agent, who was not harmed, according to George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing about 17,000 Border Patrol agents. The wounded agent was in surgery and expected to recover, McCubbin said.
Turgal wouldn't comment on whether the weapons used in Tuesday's shooting could be tied to Operation Fast and Furious. But Republican members of Congress who have been critical of the Justice Department issued statements that tried to link it to the government's botched gun-trafficking operation.
"There's no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we'll wonder for years if the guns used in any killing along the border were part of an ill-advised gun-walking strategy sanctioned by the federal government," Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. "It's a sad commentary."
Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz also issued statements expressing condolences to the Ivie family and calling for improved border safety.
"Today's shootings are a grim reminder that our lands along the border remain overrun with criminal activity from drug cartels and other smuggling operations," Bishop said. "Now is the time that we must come together in a bipartisan way to make sure our borders are secure and safe."
Chaffetz said he expects a full and immediate investigation into the incident.
"As the facts come to light, we must take measures to ensure the safety and security of our Border Patrol and our residents in the region," he said.
Contributing: Associated Press