Tears streamed down the face of a Texas woman Tuesday as she described an encounter with gunmen on the Mexico side of a border lake last week that led to the presumed death of her husband. She pleaded with authorities to press for recovery of his body, amid reports that Mexican officials are disputing her account of the incident.
Tiffany Hartley, 29, said she and her husband, 30-year-old David Hartley, were aware of reports of shootings and piracy on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande-fed reservoir when they climbed aboard personal water craft Sept. 29 to explore a partially submerged church called Old Guerrero.
Appearing on TODAY, Tiffany Hartley wept as she told co-anchor Meredith Vieira how she and her husband were chased by gunmen in three boats while racing on their Jet Skis toward the tall concrete marker in the middle of Falcon Lake that marks the international boundary of Mexico and the United States.
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“After I had seen some bullets hit the water next to me, I looked back to check on David,” Tiffany Hartley said, referring to her husband of just one year. "I saw him fly over the Jet Ski. He had been hit.”
Tiffany was trying to pull him aboard her own Jet Ski when one of the boats approached, she told Vieira. “I had to turn him over because he was face down in the water. I turned him over and he was shot in the head. And that’s when one of the boats came up to me. [I] had a gun pointed at me. [They] were trying to decide what to do with me, and then they left.”
Unable to lift her husband’s body on to her Jet Ski, Tiffany Hartley raced back to the shore on the Texas side of the lake and called 911.Video: Wife: Pirates are hiding my husband’s body (on this page)
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“I couldn’t get him up. I just kept hearing God tell me, ‘You have to go. You have to go,’ ” she recounted. “So I had to leave him so I could get to safety.”
The body of David Hartley, whom authorities presume is dead, has not been found.
Aware of risks
Asked by Vieira if she and her husband knew that pirates and drug traffickers were active on Falcon Lake as recently as August, Tiffany Hartley admitted they were aware of the risk. She defended their decision to go over to the Mexican side of the lake to explore an old, partially submerged church. “We hadn’t heard anything for quite a while. My husband ... would never, ever put me in a position of danger,” she said. “We heard about the pirates, but we hadn’t heard anything recently.”
Hartley appeared on TODAY via satellite from McAllen, Texas. She was accompanied by David Hartley's parents, Dennis and Pam Hartley, and his sister, Nikki, who are urging U.S. officials to do more to press Mexican authorities to investigate the incident. On Friday, David Hartley’s friends will hold a rally outside the Mexican consulate in Denver, Colo.
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“We need to desperately get on the Mexico side of the lake so we can search for him and bring him home,” Pam Hartley said. “He has to come home. President Obama, please help. President of Mexico, help us. Please.”
Asked about a report in a South Texas newspaper quoting Mexican officials casting doubt on her account of the incident, Tiffany Hartley said that an investigation there would be welcome. As much as she wants answers, the grieving wife said she wants her husband’s body returned.
“I believe in my heart that [the gunmen] went back and took him, and that they are hiding our Jet Ski and they are hiding him,” Tiffany Hartley said. “We just plead that we get him back ... They are not doing what they need to do to get back in the water and find him.”
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