AUSTIN, Texas (Nexstar) — Family of Spc. Bishop E. Evans described him as the type of person who would help anyone, so much so that he died trying to save two drowning immigrants while deployed at the Texas-Mexico border for a state mission to secure the border.
The 22-year-old was found dead on Monday, after a four-day search for his body. Evans went missing on Friday after he tried to rescue an immigrant in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. He was one of the more than 10,000 Texas National Guard members part of Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott’s mission to secure the border.
On Monday, Evans’ family held a press conference in front of their Arlington home to speak with reporters about who he was.
“He will die for you. He did. He’s going to be missed,” Evans’ grandfather Dannie Johnson said.
According to the Texas Military Department, Evans was not equipped with a flotation device when he jumped in the water. The news was first reported by the Texas Tribune and the Military Times, and broke during a state House interim committee hearing where lawmakers were already discussing Operation Lone Star.
Members of the House committees on Homeland Security & Public Safety and Defense & Veterans’ Affairs met Wednesday to discuss the Texas State and National Guards’ activities in Operation Lone Star. You can read the full agenda.
Rep. Eddie Morales, D-Eagle Pass, asked a top state military official a series of questions about the protocols for soldiers in an attempt at understanding the circumstances that led to Evans’ death.
“So, I understood that Special Agent Bishop Evans, when he perished was not wearing a flotation device? Is that an accurate statement?,” Morales asked Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer with the Texas National Guard.
“That’s correct,” Suelzer responded.
Morales then asked if every national guard soldier manning the border are given life vests or flotation devices. Suelzer said no because “somebody working a land site would not be expected to go into the water.”
“Do you have a process or protocol or procedure in place that all soldiers need to follow whenever they see a migrant on the river struggling?,” Morales asked Suelzer.
“We conduct safety briefings… for risk mitigation. We tell our soldiers and airmen don’t go into the water,” Suelzer responded.
Suelzer said the department instructs members to stay out of the water, unless specifically trained or equipped. When Morales asked if that means Evans acted against orders, he said neither yes or no.
“Sergeant Evans was a human being. He saw a human being drowning and he jumped in the water to save them,” he said.
The Texas Military Department ordered rescue ropes and hundreds of ring buoys in February to increase safety for water rescues, Suelzer said. By the time Evans died, only about 30% of the flotation devices had arrived for guard members.
That order included 150 flotation devices for soldiers assigned to boat missions along the border, but Suelzer said they have only received 43. He also said there are 235 ring buoy flotation devices on order. Those have long ropes that allows them to be tossed to a person in distress.
Texas National Guard Brigadier General Monie R. Ulis said most water rescues don’t require soldiers to actually jump in the water.
Ulis said along the border, there have recently been four to five situations where soldiers did jump in.
“I am confident that one flotation device at a security point is sufficient, given the number of incorrect occasions where we have had service members actually attempt to assess migrants,” Ulis said. “We could buy 6,000 float devices…I think that would be a waste of government money, because not all 6,000 [soldiers] are even near the water.”
Morales said in general, he and Rep. James White, R-Hillister, have received numerous complaints about guard members deployed on Operation Lone Star not having enough equipment.
When asked what the department has done to address these concerns, Suelzer said the equipment issues for current missions have been resolved. He cited the February order that has yet to be completed for addressing upcoming missions.