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Border Patrol agent killed by friendly fire was shot in head

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A U.S. Border Patrol agent killed in an apparent friendly fire incident near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona last month died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to an autopsy report released on Wednesday.

Nicholas Ivie, 30, was fatally shot and another agent was wounded in a burst of gunfire in early October as they went to check a tripped ground sensor in the desert near the border town of Naco, a spot well known for drug and human smuggling.

Pima County Forensic Pathologist Cynthia Porterfield concluded that Ivie died from "a penetrating gunshot wound of the head," noting that a "small caliber copper jacketed projectile" was recovered from his brain.

A report by a local sheriff's department released last week revealed that Ivie had been in radio contact with two other agents on the scene in an area of broken, mountainous terrain before the fatal predawn shooting.

The Cochise County sheriff's report also said one of the two other agents, both of whom had approached the scene in darkness from the opposite direction as Ivie, told investigators she had observed Ivie "signaling them with his flashlight" before the shooting erupted.

Ivie was the fourth Border Patrol agent to die in the line of duty in less than two years in Arizona. His death heightened concern about border security in a state at the forefront of the national immigration debate in a presidential election year.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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