Shots fired at the border. A Coyote takes one in the butt.

Mexican authorities are investigating (don’t laugh) the nonfatal shootings of two Mexican men in the border area between Campo and Tecate early Saturday.

One man has stated he was shot about 200 yards inside the United States. The other said he was shot by a masked assailant about 20 yards south of the fence on the Mexican side.

Officials have not linked the shootings to the presence of armed civilians patrolling the border outside Campo, about 14 miles to the east of Tecate, since mid-July.

In a written statement, Mexican immigration authorities blamed the shootings on bandits rather than on what they called cazamigrantes, which is Spanish for “migrant hunters.”

The statement also said that both men were shot on the Mexican side of the border. However, one of the victims, Carlos Alfonso Estrada Martinez, 38, of Tijuana, stated when interviewed by other government officials in a Tecate hospital last weekend that he and six others had crossed north of the border fence when they heard gunfire and he was hit.

The staff at the Centro de Salud hospital in Tecate confirmed that Estrada, who is believed by Mexican authorities to have been leading the group as a guide, was treated for a gunshot wound to one of his buttocks.

The other shooting victim, Jose Humberto Rivera Perez, a 32-year-old Guadalajara native, said Estrada checked himself out Sunday.

Rivera was wounded in a separate shooting on the Mexican side of the border about 2 a.m. Saturday, about an hour after Martinez was shot.

Rivera was shot below the left knee and remained hospitalized yesterday afternoon. In a telephone interview, he said he had been waiting to cross the border illegally with a group of eight people ? two of them children ? about 20 yards south of the fence. When their guide went ahead to check, Rivera said, they were approached by a man who had his face covered. They tried to flee but the assailant shouted at them in Spanish to not run, and fired, hitting Rivera.

“If he were a bandit, he would have grabbed us and taken everything,” said Rivera, adding that he was not robbed. “He only shot at us and ran.”

Although the shootings have not been linked to the border-watch event, a Tijuana-based official with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission called the shootings worrisome, and he was concerned that a violent individual could be inspired by the cazamigrantes. In April during the Minuteman Project, a civilian border-watch event in Arizona, a man who was not a participant held up several migrants at gunpoint.

“With this kind of operation, they are feeding feelings of hatred,” said Heriberto Garcia, regional coordinator of the commission for Baja California and part of Sonora. “These feelings of hatred can inspire acts of violence like this. It’s very strange that these acts are occurring in this context. We’re not discarding any possibilities until the authorities find out who did this, one way or another.”

Jim Chase, the Oceanside resident who organized the Campo border-watch event, said those who have been patrolling with him have “not discharged one round yet, not even in practice.” He did, however, say he has run across several people who are doing their own patrols.

“The rogue theory is absolutely true,” he said.

Sheriff’s deputies took a report yesterday from five participants in Chase’s patrols who said they heard shots being fired about 10:45 p.m. Saturday.

Chase said the shots were fired from Mexico and were directed at participants, although deputies said it’s unclear where the shots were fired from or for whom they were intended.

Lt. Bill Hogue said the border watchers heard something hit the fence, although it’s not clear if the sound was made by bullets or rocks. There is no indication there was any shooting on the U.S. side of the fence, he said.

The Border Patrol has given credit to Chase’s group for the apprehension of two undocumented immigrants on Sunday morning, although Chase says his group has reported more.

That morning, Chase said he called the Border Patrol after he picked up a man and a woman hitchhiking along state Highway 94.

The border watchers are only supposed to report illegal activity; Chase said he was tired and he didn’t realize they were undocumented immigrants when he picked them up. He said he became suspicious and notified the Border Patrol once they were in the car. He dropped them off near the Border Patrol station in Campo, he said.

“They looked like a nice couple,” he said.

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