By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press
DENVER -- A Colorado woman is demanding that the U.S. government do more to find the body of her husband, six months after he was presumably gunned down on a lake along Texas' border with Mexico.
Nearly year after David Hartley's mysterious disappearance from Falcon Lake, the man's body has yet to be recovered. CNN reports Hartley's widow, Tiffany, has sued the State Department, Justice Department, and FBI in an attempt to learn what happened to her husband.
Tiffany Hartley, who lives east of Greeley in Weld County, said nothing has been done since Mexican officials called off a search for David Hartley on Oct. 14. She held a rally with family and supporters at the Colorado Capitol on Wednesday asking state officials to pressure the Obama administration to do more to find her husband and to secure the border.
Tiffany Hartley told authorities she and her husband were using personal watercraft on Falcon Lake when they were approached Sept. 30 by Mexican pirates who shot and killed her husband. The couple were returning to Texas after photographing a historic church on the Mexican side of the lake, Hartley said.
"We don't want to leave him in the hands of the enemy," she told The Associated Press, referring to suspected pirates or drug smugglers known to roam the lake about 45 miles northwest of McAllen, Texas. "If we get his body back, we can at last honor him the way he would want to be honored, at least by his family."
No death certificate has been issued, and Mexican officials have told Hartley the case remains open.
The Mexican federal attorney general's office could not immediately provide an update on the status of the case and Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez, who led the investigation on the U.S. side, did not return telephone messages from the AP.
David Hartley's case is not listed on U.S. State Department records of American citizens killed in Mexico, and State Department officials did not immediately respond to inquiries about the case. In cases such as Hartley's, it's up to families or acquaintances to file a report with local Mexican officials, which Hartley did through the Mexican consulate's office in October.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said he's been trying to move the case forward.
"My office has kept in close contact with the State Department on this matter, and we will continue to do so in the hope that it will help the Hartley family obtain the answers they desperately deserve," the Colorado Democrat said in a statement.
State Department travel advisories warn visitors to be aware of drug violence in several areas of Mexico. In September, the department ordered minor dependents of U.S. consulate employees out of the industrial city of Monterrey following a shooting outside a school and a rise in kidnappings.
Some 311 U.S. citizens were homicide victims in Mexico between January 2006 and December 2010, with 106 killed last year, according to a database of unnatural deaths of U.S. citizens abroad that are reported to the State Department.
Department spokeswoman Tanya Powell said U.S. authorities don't count numbers of missing Americans abroad in part because the more than 200,000 inquiries the department receives each year are quickly resolved.
A former bull rider and raiser of prize steers while growing up in Colorado, 30-year-old David Hartley worked as a district manager for an oil and gas drilling company and lived in Reynosa, Mexico, with his wife until moving to McAllen, Texas, shortly before he disappeared.
A report by Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based public policy research group that tracks the drug war, suggests that Mexican license plates on the truck holding the Hartleys' Jet Skis may have led to a case of mistaken identity.
Falcon Lake, a dammed section of the Rio Grande, has been plagued by pirates who rob boaters and fishermen in Mexican waters, and Texas officials warn recreationists to avoid the lake. Hartley's death would be the first confirmed killing there.
Officials in Tamaulipas state, Mexico, at first cast doubt on Tiffany Hartley's story, saying nearby residents did not report hearing Jet Skis or gunshots in the area where Hartley reportedly was shot. Authorities later said they conducted a sweeping search involving more than 100 people by boat, helicopter and all-terrain vehicle. Divers searched the lake, which is 25 miles long and 3 miles wide.
U.S. consulate officials have said there's no reason to doubt Hartley's story.
The search was hampered by threats of ambush of authorities who were searching the lake, presumably by the Zetas drug gang, as well as the death of the Tamaulipas state police commander and chief investigator of the Hartley case, Rolando Flores, whose decapitated head was delivered in a suitcase to a local Mexican army post while the search was under way.
Mexican authorities said it was unclear if Flores' death was related to the Hartley case because Flores worked on numerous drug investigations.
Violence last fall spread from Ciudad Juarez, an epicenter of the drug war across the border from El Paso, Texas, to areas of Tamaulipas where Hartley disappeared. Two drug gangs, the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, have battled for supremacy there.
Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this report from Mexico City.