“I can’t leave without being married to you,” Luis Aguilar told his future wife, Erica. What if something happens to me? What would happen to you and the kids? More than 20 years later, his prescience still amazes her.
Like many Americans after 9/11, Luis felt called to duty. He worked in the El Paso, Texas sheriff’s office but decided to join federal law enforcement. “Luis loved his country,” Erica recalled recently. “He wanted to make a difference and he did that by becoming a border patrol agent.”
Before he left for training in Charleston, S.C., Luis asked Erica to marry, which they did before a justice of the peace. By the end of that year, 2002, the Aguilar family, Luis and Erica and their young children Luis Jr. and Arianna, were celebrating Christmas in Yuma, Ariz.
He threw himself into the work with gusto and delight, taking advantage of every overtime and detail opportunity. He rose to senior patrol agent. He learned to teach driving at instructor school. Family remained his north star, however, and when he came home, Luis Jr. and Arianna would hide, prompting him to search the house for them. It was their game.
He called Erica on January 18, 2008, excited because he had gotten the BEST detail. “You always get the best detail,” she replied, smiling. BEST stood for Border Enforcement Surveillance Team, he explained. That night the family went out to celebrate.
The next morning, January 19, 2008, he left his house with his customary smile even though it was 4:30am. It was an overtime assignment and that night his colleagues would gather at his home to watch a boxing match. The gathering became an impromptu wake: A suspected smuggler hit and killed Luis with a Hummer as he laid spike strips in the road, trying to cut and deflate the vehicle’s tires. He died instantly.
Now Erica is executive director of the Border Patrol Foundation. “The greatest gift he has given us – beyond the love he had for us – is purpose,” Erica said. “He would be thrilled that he is what drives us every morning. Not one day goes by that we don’t remember him.”