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Video: Wife: Pirates are hiding my husband’s body

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    >>> hour with the latest on the american couple who were allegedly attacked by mexican pirates as they jet skied on a mexican border lake.

    >> reporter: they knew each other since high school and had a passion for adventure. but 29-year-old tiffany hartley and her 30-year-old husband david could never have imagined how a sightseeing trip would change their lives forever. last thursday, the couple ventured out into the falcon lake reservoir in south texas , trying to photograph an old partially submerged church in a mexican ghost town .

    >> they were over the border.

    >> did you see anybody?

    >> there are three boats.

    >> three boats?

    >> three boats and they came back looking at me.

    >> three boats and a barrage of bullets. david was shot in the back of the head. and then the ultimate agony, as the ambush continued, tiffany was forced to abandon her dying husband in a desperate bid to state of her own life. she finally reached shore, describing sheer terror in her call to 911.

    >> are you sure that your husband got shot?

    >> yes. in the head.

    >> was he thrown out of the jet see and that he's in the water or something?

    >> he was thrown off the jet ski and i couldn't pick him up to get him on mine.

    >> we're close to getting here landing on the water, but she was not hit.

    >> the falcon lake reservoir is a unique body of water . the u.s. mexico border runs right through the middle of it. tiffany admits they were on the mexican side. with gun toting pirates becoming more brazen in their attacks. texas authorities don't have jurisdiction on mexican side of the lake.

    >> we would like to try to retrieve the body. the way things are on the border, we would need to be very well armed to protect ourselves.

    >> for a couple married a yeaeight years, it seems sadly ironic. that their goal was to live without fear.

    >> tiffany hartley is here with us along with david 's parents. good morning to all of you and please accept my condolences, i'm so sorry for your loss.

    >> good morning.

    >> tiffany , if i could start with you, could you take us back to last week when you went jet skiing with your husband david . why did you guys decide to go out there?

    >> my husband had been doing some research on that old church in mexico , and he loved history and he wanted to go see it before we headed back to colorado the following week.

    >> in may i know that the texas department of public safety had reported several incidents of gunmen robbing boaters. nay had worned americans about the lake, if you're going to go out there, whatever you do, don't cross over into the mexican side. i understand you and david had even talked about the risks. why did you ignore the danger involved there?

    >> we hadn't heard anything for quite a while. my husband, being a manager of his -- the company down in mexico , he had to take care of them and make sure they were safe and make sure i was safe and i know he would never ever put me in a position of danger and we hadn't heard anything of anything going on over there. we had heard about the pirates, but we didn't know, you know, we just hadn't heard anything recently.

    >> so at what point did you realize that you were both in terrible danger?

    >> once we started seeing that the three boats were coming towards us and then they started chasing us, and then we just started hearing the fires, the gun fire.

    >> and then your husband was shot and you were faced with an agonizing decision, you either went back and tried to save him or saved your own life or attempted to save your own life. can you tell us about that moment for you?

    >> when i looked back after i had seen some bullets hit the water next to me, i looked back to check on david and i saw him fly over the jet ski and he had been hit. i quickly turned around and went to him and jumped off my jet ski and i had to turn him over because he was facedown in the water and turned him over and he was shot in the head. and that's when a boat came up, one of the boats came up to me. and had a gun pointed at me trying to -- and that's when they left and that's when i tried saving david and getting him on my jet ski but i couldn't get him up and i kept hearing god tell me you have to go, you have to go. so i had to leave him. so i could get to safety.

    >> and i know that -- they have not recovered your husband's body or your son's body, dennis and pam, how are you coping?

    >> well, we're hacking in there. we have had a lot of support from friends here and everywhere. david 's friends in colorado are planning a rally to bring david home. that is this friday in denver, colorado at the mexican consulate at 1:00 p.m .

    >> do you feel the mexican authorities are doing all they can to find david 's body?

    >> no.

    >> no.

    >> no. .

    >> we need to desperate by get on the mexican side of the lake so we can search for him and bring him home. it's like please, everybody, call your congress, call anybody that you can to have them get us over there. he has to come home. president obama , help us, president of mexico , help us, please.

    >> this is not something that there's a textbook on to know what we're supposed to do, we have been doing what we have been directed to do by everybody and i don't feel we have been provided the right information to make stuff work and that's why we're pleaing to everybody now, anybody that can help to let us know and to support us and to rally together to get him back home so we can have peace and closure on this and so that never happens to anybody else.

    >> and now tiffany , the mexican authorities are speaking with a south texas newspaper and questioning your story, they say they found no evidence of this attack or your husband's remains, saying we're not certain that this incident happened the way they are telling us. i want to give you a chance to respond to that.

    >> well, i would have to say that, you know, when they -- they know the pirates are out there, we knew that, we knew that there was a possibility of them being there. i believe in my heart that they went back and took him and they're hiding our jet ski , they're hiding him. and we just plea to that we get him back. and when you're looking at the end of the barrel of a gun and wondering if they're just going to shoot you too and wonder if your families are just going to never know where you are, and his mom knew we were there, but it's not anything for david not to call her for a few days. but they're not doing what they need to do to get in that water and find him. they're not getting in the water, they don't have people on the ground, they don't have people looking for him. and that's why we're pleading that. please. bring him back.

    >> they can't prove it if they don't look.

    >> tiffany , dennis, pam and nicky hartley , thank you so much, our thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

    >> thank you.

TODAY contributor
updated 10/5/2010 9:18:25 AM ET 2010-10-05T13:18:25

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)

“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.”

Video: Texas couple attacked by Mexican pirates? (on this page)

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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