(NewsNation) — If you don’t deal with the cartel, it can be hard to cross the southern border, NewsNation has learned.
At least, that’s what some people in Kino Springs, Arizona — near the ranch where authorities say 74-year-old George Alan Kelly shot and killed a Mexican citizen — are saying.
This comes as Border Patrol seized a massive drug load in Santa Cruz County roughly 15 miles from Kelly’s ranch earlier this month. Agents found 90 pounds of methamphetamine and more than 113,000 fentanyl pills in abandoned packs.
A neighbor living on Kelly’s road didn’t want to speak on camera, but says Border Patrol has responded to the Kelly ranch at least 30 times over the last month. He says smugglers lead people to the gate and they’re picked up by load vehicles mostly driven by U.S. citizens on the road behind his house. The neighbor says he doesn’t feel safe being in his backyard anymore and that his daughter won’t even come to visit.
Kelly isn’t heading to trial until Sept. 6, but the cartel operations along the border and the fight against them is ongoing.
Multiple sources tell NewsNation that people have had to pay the cartel or smuggle drugs for the criminal organization to get into the country.
“They don’t give up names or anything like that,” retired Santa Cruz County Sheriff Deputy Chief Mario Morales said. “Just somebody that they met in Mexico and said, ‘Hey, take this with you.’”
Morales, who is running for Santa Cruz County sheriff in 2024, says the reason people still take the trek despite how dangerous it is is because, “Everything north of it is where they want to go.”
“That’s my simplest answer,” he said.
The state argues Kelly shot Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea in the back as he fled for his life in January. Kelly’s defense says the rancher fired shots over the heads of the seven men wearing camouflage, some of them armed running through his ranch. Kelly maintains that he didn’t hit any of them.
Near his porch, there were eight casings that matched one of Kelly’s AK-47s. None were found by Cuen-Buitimea’s body, though. In fact, no bullet has been found in connection to Cuen-Buitimea’s death. The only things reportedly found on him were a radio and tactical boots. However, both witnesses claimed Cuen-Buitimea was wearing a camo backpack and waist bag when they were with him— leaving questions about where the bags went.
NewsNation reached out to several family members of the victim but has not heard back. However, the Mexican foreign ministry says it is supporting the victim’s daughter and helping her get to court hearings.