— Ryan Lowery (@ryanmlowery) January 10, 2017
Hunting guides Walker Daugherty and Michael Bryant were leading a hunting party in southern Texas in early January, when they claimed immigrants illegally crossed the nearby Mexico border, converged on their camp in the middle of the night and tried to rob them.
Gunfire erupted. When the smoke cleared and the fight was over, Daugherty was bleeding from a shot to his abdomen. Another member of the party had been shot in the arm.
After being airlifted to the hospital, the men told authorities that immigrants who crossed the border from Mexico wanted to steal an RV some of the hunters were using. In statements made through friends and family, they went further, suggesting that the assailants wanted to kill everyone in the party, as the Albuquerque Journal reported.
A GoFundMe page set up by a family friend to cover Daugherty’s medical bills raised $26,300 from more than 200 donors.
The story was harrowing, to be sure, not to mention rife with political implications. The Texas Agriculture Commissioner even shared it on his Facebook page, saying it underscored the need for President Trump’s proposed border wall.
But authorities say it was all a lie.
Daugherty and Bryant were indicted last week on one count each of using deadly conduct by discharging firearms in the direction of others, according to CBS 7. Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez told the station that an investigation had found Daugherty and the other injured hunter were struck by friendly fire. There was no sign, he said, that anyone else was involved.
It wasn’t clear whether Daugherty or Bryant had retained attorneys or entered pleas.
Daugherty, Bryant and a group of their clients had been hunting at the Circle Dug Ranch, a 15,000-acre tract of valley land just a few miles from the Mexico border in Texas. On the night of Jan. 6, a deputy in the sheriff’s office responded to a call for a shooting, and when he arrived he found Daugherty and 59-year-old Edwin Roberts suffering from gunshot wounds.
Authorities were suspicious from the beginning. Prompted by the group’s claims that illegal immigrants were responsible, U.S. Border Patrol dispatched 30 agents to sweep the area, aided by expert trackers and thermal imaging technology, Big Bend Now reported. Daugherty and his fiancee claimed to have previously seen immigrants crossing the border and through their property, according to CBS 7.
Within days of the shooting, however, the sheriff ‘s office said there was “no evidence that suggests cross-border violence” and “no sign of human pedestrian traffic leading to or from the ranch that night.”
“There were no bullet casings or projectiles from weapons other than those belonging to the individuals hunting on the ranch nor in the RV belonging to the hunting party,” the sheriff’s office told Big Bend Now in mid-January.
By then, however, the rumors had already spread. A rancher and family friend in Arizona released a statement based on the Daugherty family’s account, describing the incident as a brutal, calculated attack by “illegal aliens.”
“The attack has the family concerned that the attack was not just an attempt to rob the property,” the statement read, according to the Albuquerque Journal. “They believe the assailants intended to kill all the party. The attackers were strategically placed around the lodge, and the men were fired upon from different areas.”
Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, shared the story with his 400,000-plus followers on Facebook.
“This is why we need the wall and to secure our borders,” Miller wrote in a since-deleted post that was shared more than 6,500 times. “There are violent criminals and members of drug cartels coming in and it must put a stop to it before we have many more Walker Daughertys.”
What really happened, Sheriff Dominguez said, was much simpler and less nefarious: Daugherty shot his client, and Bryant shot Daugherty.
Dominguez told CBS 7 that the hunters may have become paranoid from reports of violence crossing over the border from Mexico. But he said they need not worry.
“Border Patrol are experts in tracking in this area,” Dominguez said. “We trust what they say because that’s all they do on a daily basis, and they didn’t find no sign, no indication that there was anybody in or out of that area that night.”