BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A federal agent killed in Mexico was a "proud Texan" whose debt of service to his country can never be repaid, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told an overflowing crowd at the agent's funeral Tuesday.
Mourners spilled outside the Brownsville Events Center to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata. Law enforcement and border security personnel lined the walls two deep and spilled out of the aisles in the building, while others gathered solemnly outside.
"Try as we might, we know that no words or actions will fill the void left by Agent Zapata's actions or repay the sacrifice he made for his country," Napolitano said.
Zapata, 32, was run off the road and gunned down in San Luis Potosi state Feb. 15. Another agent in the car, Victor Avila, was shot twice in the leg but survived the attack. Officials have said the attack was carried out by drug cartel members.
Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to continue helping Mexico in its war against drug cartels battling for lucrative trafficking routes.
"We must and will eradicate the scourge that took his life," Holder told the crowd.
After the 1½-hour service, streets were lined on both sides by law enforcement personnel for nearly half a mile leading away from the venue, and firetrucks and flags flanked the route to the cemetery. Zapata was to be buried later Tuesday in his hometown of Brownsville, about 280 miles from San Antonio on the southern tip of Texas.
Bishop Daniel Flores was the first to speak, using imagery to describe the "evil" Zapata had been fighting.
"He knew that if the good do not fight for what is good the enemy is aggressive and will take our children," Flores said.
Mourners took Holy Communion and sang "Amazing Grace" before Napolitano, Holder and ICE Director John Morton spoke. The officials sat at the front with Zapata's family. One of his brothers also works at ICE, another in customs and border protection, and his father was in law enforcement.
"Jaime Zapata died fighting for what was right. Fighting to protect not only the people of this country but also the people of Mexico from drug traffickers and organized criminals."
Zapata and Avila were attacked when a group of Zeta drug cartel members in two vehicles forced Zapata's sport utility vehicle off a highway in San Luis Potosi state, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul has said.
San Luis Potosi borders two northern Mexican states where the Zetas and the rival Gulf Cartel have waged bloody battles over territory. Zapata and Avila were temporarily detailed to the ICE attache office in Mexico City and were driving from the northern city of Monterrey to the Mexican capital at the time of the attack.
© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.