U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Border Patrol Agents James Barfield, Rolando Cantu Jr., and Christopher Smilo

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

On June 15, 2013, the city of Eagle Pass, Texas, experienced severe flooding after record rainfalls. In just 36 hours, the areas received nearly 17 inches of rain, causing extreme flooding. Many Eagle Pass residents were unaware of the dangers to come and were left stranded as flood waters rushed through the city.

Multiple agencies were activated to respond to the flooding, including Border Patrol agents from across the Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Sector. Three of these agents, Border Patrol Agents Rolando Cantu, James Barfield, and Christopher Smilo, showed tremendous courage in the face of danger and never once hesitated to risk his own life to save another.

Agent Smilo was assigned to a Border Patrol airboat being used to conduct rescue operations. He and the vessel commander, Agent Cantu, rode up and down the flooded streets of Eagle Pass looking for stranded residents. During their search, Agents Smilo and Cantu observed what appeared to be a flashlight being waved inside a house that was nearly completely underwater. Agent Smilo quickly entered the fast-moving and debris-filled water to move closer to the home, where he observed two elderly occupants standing on a chair inside the house and struggling to keep their heads above the water.

Agent Smilo managed to open the front door and was immediately sucked inside by rushing waters that began to fill the rest of the home even more quickly. He regained his bearing and swam to the couple, calmly explaining that they would have to go underwater to exit the house through the front door. Though the couple was frightened, Agent Smilo’s calm demeanor reassured them that he was in control of the situation and that they would be okay. He grabbed hold of the first elderly occupant, and calmly and quickly helped her under water, through the front door, and onto the awaiting airboat. He immediately returned to the home to retrieve the other occupant, telling the frightened man that his companion was safe and that it was his turn to exit the home. Agent Smilo then helped the gentleman under water, through the front door, and onto the awaiting airboat.

As Agent Smilo was rescuing the elderly couple, Agent Cantu noticed that another elderly resident was in imminent danger of drowning. Agent Cantu maneuvered his airboat to the nearest object that he could use to secure the vessel—a telephone pole with exposed and live electrical wires. In complete disregard for his own safety, Agent Cantu secured the airboat to the telephone pole and leapt into the debris-filled, fast-moving waters.

Once in the water, Agent Cantu swam to the frightened gentleman’s home. After entering the home, Agent Cantu calmed and assured the gentleman that everything would be alright. He then had the elderly gentleman climb onto his back and wrap his arms around the agent’s neck, which gave Agent Cantu better leverage to pull the man through the open door. Agent Cantu then swam through the ever-rising, mud-filled waters to get the elderly gentleman to safety.

In another part of town, Agent Barfield was advised of an elderly couple stranded in an apartment complex. Despite the quickly rising flood waters, low visibility, and dangerous road conditions, Agent Barfield responded to the call and immediately proceeded to drive his Border Patrol emergency vehicle to the apartment complex. Upon arrival, Agent Barfield got out of his vehicle and waded through the swift current and 4-5 foot swells of rising water toward the apartment complex to evacuate the elderly couple.

Agent Barfield met the couple at their apartment’s door, but both were extremely anxious and frightened. Agent Barfield calmly explained to the couple that he would rescue them one at a time but they both were going to be okay. Agent Barfield assisted the female victim first by having her climb onto his back with her arms wrapped around his neck. He then waded through the water until he reached his vehicle and safely assisted the female victim inside.

He then waded back toward the apartment, despite the fact that the flood waters were rising and becoming even more dangerous. He assisted the second victim as he had the first and brought the man to safety. He calmly and continuously assured this elderly couple that they were going to be safe and risked his life to make that happen.

The events that day were devastating to the entire Eagle Pass community. While many agents helped assist their fellow citizens, the actions of Agents Smilo, Cantu, and Barfield went above the line of duty. These agents never hesitated to help someone, knowing they were putting their own lives in danger.

Press Releases