Local man organizes tribute to fallen Border Patrol agents

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Diane Sieker photo

Local man Ben Cruz organized a tribute hike to honor two U.S. Border Patrol agents who were murdered in Anza in 1967.

The Remembrance Hike: End Of Watch 2020 will be held Wednesday, June 17, from 2-3:30 p.m., beginning at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building at 59011 Bailey Road in Anza.

“I’m a defense contractor at Miramar MCAS, fixing F/A-18 fighter jets,” Cruz said. “My lovely fiancé Nicole Arana is a United States Army veteran. As new residents of the Anza community, we’re committed to maintaining a proactive approach and supporting all law enforcement agencies.”

He presented his tribute gathering on the Facebook group Anza Crime Watch and introduced the community to the events that occurred 53 years ago in the Anza Valley.

“The 1967 kidnapping and execution of two Border Patrol agents by four marijuana smugglers leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” he said.

According to an article researched and written by Jennifer Lloyd, Brian Lombard, Michelle Kite and Brian Westerling, Border Patrol agents Theodore L. Newton Jr., 25, and George F. Azrak, 22, were assigned to a rural checkpoint in northern San Diego County, June 17, 1967. At about 4 a.m., they stopped and inspected a vehicle on Route 79, just south of the Riverside County line.

At first, they allowed the vehicle to pass, but the agents then realized that the car was squatting, an indication of an excessive load. They followed the vehicle and made a stop. Inside, they discovered 800 pounds of marijuana.

The agents had two smugglers covered at the side of the road, but unbeknownst to Newton and Azark, a backup vehicle approached the scene with two additional smugglers armed with handguns.

Newton served four years with the U.S. Air Force. After his discharge, he attended the 86th session of the Border Patrol Academy in Port Isabel, Texas, graduating at the top of his class. He had a wife and two small children.

Azrak had only been on the job for about a month. He was the son of a career Immigration and Naturalization Service agent and had recently completed his bachelor’s degree in criminology at Florida State University.

Both men were kidnapped by the smugglers, forced at gunpoint into the car that they had stopped, leaving the Border Patrol Jeep behind.

The two vehicles proceeded up Route 371 toward Anza.

At about 5:40 a.m., the men were handcuffed to a stove in a deserted mountain cabin located on the Howard Bailey Ranch adjacent to the Cahuilla Indian Reservation.

The smugglers shot Newton in the back of the head once, killing him instantly.

Azrak was shot in the chest by a second smuggler, while pleading for his life. A third smuggler shot him in the back of the head twice.

The Border Patrol Agency immediately set up a search for the missing agents with a 200-man force, but it would be a several days before they found the bodies of the two men, still handcuffed to the stove.

Two smugglers were arrested in Los Angeles, July 16, 1967, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The other two men were arrested in Sonora, Mexico, and given 30-year sentences for second-degree murder.

“I remember that summer when visiting my grandparents. Beyond tragic, this mountain mourned for these heroic officers,” Maureen McGiffin Owen said.

Cruz reached out to the public relations representatives of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agencies in San Diego.

“The agency is moved at our gesture to pay tribute, they are humbled that community members of Anza, Aguanga, Oak Grove and Warner Springs are honoring their fallen colleagues,” he said. “The CBPA will be joining us at this event, along with other first responders. This means guest speakers and news media agencies. The event is going to be highlighted during a short segment on some of the various local news stations.”

An itinerary is under development, allowing organizers to formulate a solid timetable, which will enable an informative and memorable tribute.

“I’m looking for faith leaders to lead us in prayer for these men and all those in attendance. Community leaders are also needed. Join me, as we honor the memory of Border Patrol agents Ted Newton and George Azark. This is an open invitation to all members of the community. COVID-19 guidelines may be in effect,” Cruz said.

The event is a hike to the cabin location, a remembrance ceremony, then a return hike back to the starting location. Details are still being developed with a possible meet up at the Cahuilla Casino parking lot, before the hike. Actual start time subject to change.

To learn more, visit the event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1096838237351486.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.