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I remember Manny from my early years in the Border Patrol. We would have coffee with Manny and Ernie Tofani at the Denny's restaurant before the start of our patrols. Manny was always a pleasant person and happy to shake your hand. I met Manny a number of times out in the field on I-19 or Highway 82 while on the job.
I have to tell you my story regarding my experience, because Manny's murder still haunts me to this day. I was patrolling I-19 in November of 1990, two months before Manny's death. I was with Jeff Short and we were sitting near the Palo Parado Exit when we observed a suspicious vehicle pass our location. I was driving and we stopped the vehicle near Tumacacori. Jeff stayed behind his passenger door while I walked up to the driver's side window of the suspicious vehicle. There were two persons on board, both Hispanic males and I asked them their status in the United States. They both claimed Mexican Citizenship and they gave me their Border Crossing Cards. I asked where they were going and they said they were going to an unknown address in Tubac. I asked if I could look in the trunk of the vehicle and the driver agreed to open the trunk of the car. I stepped towards the front of the vehicle to allow the driver to step out. As I shut the door behind the driver, I heard the passenger pop open his door. I peered inside through the driver's side window and asked him what was he doing, while the driver popped open the trunk at the same time. Suddenly the passenger burst out of the vehicle and ran towards the brush and the driver took off running with him at the same time. Jeff ran after them, but I called him back, because we had about 100 pounds of marijuana in the car and we couldn't leave it along the highway unattended. It was also getting dark and it wasn't safe for Jeff to pursue them alone. We called out the last observed location of the runners, their description and their direction of travel for other agents to converge on the area, hoping to catch them later. Jeff and I transported the car and marijuana back to the office and processed the marijuana. I did my report and remembered that I had the Border Crossing Cards of both subjects, the driver was Noel Bernal-Gonzalez.
On January 7th 1991, I was working the Midnight Shift and I was assigned to the Radio Room. At muster we were told of Manny's shooting and that he was taken to Tucson to undergo surgery. We were all in shock and individually prayed for Manny's recovery. Later that night at about 2:30 AM, I was alone in the Radio Room when a phone call came in to notify us that Manny had passed. I wept, and it took me about an hour to get myself together, when I put it out on the radio to our agents to let them know that Manny had passed away. Later that morning at about 7 AM, Joe Marrufo, our APAIC came into the radio room. He asked me if I knew Noel Bernal-Gonzalez, I thought about if for awhile and then I recalled the stop a couple of months earlier near Tumacacori. Joe told me that Bernal-Gonzalez was the person that shot Manny. The blood left my face and I was so stunned that I almost passed out. I also learned later that Bernal-Gonzalez had the same weapon with him when I stopped him in November and that the only reason he didn't shoot me was because Bernal was too far from the border and he was afraid that he would've been apprehended before making it back to Mexico.
I often play out that vehicle stop in my head. What if I did this, what if I did that? Would I have apprehended Bernal-Gonzalez before he could've hurt Manny or would I have been murdered instead? I still feel guilty for Manny's murder, I feel for his family that he's gone and couldn't be there for them. I feel bad for the Arizona DPS family for their loss too. I always feel like there was something that I could've done differently, but I'm not sure if there was anything I could've done. I hope that if Manny's family reads this that they know that I feel awful for their loss and I wish I could've done something different to prevent Manny's murder. I also hope that this doesn't open new wounds. This is just my way of dealing with my emotions from that night, my catharsis. I'm approaching my retirement from law enforcement, I feel fortunate to have made it this far. I guess I'm just going through the past 30 years in my head and trying to resolve emotional issues by writing them out. Forgive me for rambling. Vaya con Dios mi amigo. Sincerely, Jeff Pullig
DEA Special Agent
November 15, 2016