Arizona rancher accused of killing migrant was ‘intentionally vague,’ 911 calls reveal


Arizona rancher George Kelly told 911 dispatchers there was an “animal lying facedown” on his property after he allegedly shot dead an illegal migrant — and a Border Patrol agent deemed he was being “intentionally vague” with authorities, according to recordings obtained by The Post.

Kelly — accused of killing 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea after firing an AK-47 at a fleeing group of unarmed border crossers — begged the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office to send officers to his Nogales ranch Jan. 30, but refused to divulge further details.

“It’s very serious, ma’am, and I’m not going to talk over the telephone,” a frantic Kelly, 74, told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the call.

In the nearly 8-minute phone call, the dispatcher pleaded with Kelly to provide context for his request so she could ensure the safety of the responding deputies.

The rancher repeatedly reiterated his desire to “remain silent” and explicitly said he “hadn’t shot at anything” when the dispatcher shared that Border Patrol agents already reported the shooting.

“I don’t want to get you in trouble and I don’t want to get me in trouble,” Kelly said. “What I’m telling you is that we need a sheriff deputy out here … immediately and that’s all I can say, ma’am.”

“I’m not admitting to anything I’ve done.”

George Alan Kelly, right, walks over to his lawyer during his arraignment in Santa Cruz County.
George Alan Kelly was “intentionally vague” with 911 dispatchers after the shooting, agents said.

The dispatcher continued to press Kelly for further information and was finally able to get the increasingly frustrated rancher to definitively say a dead body was involved.

The rancher refused to confirm whether it was human and at one point referred to the deceased as “it.”

He told the dispatcher: “I only approached the body to make sure the animal is not a vegetable or a mineral. The animal was not alive and it is not alive. There were no signs of blood. There was just an animal laying facedown.”

Kelly told the sheriff’s office that there was no point in dispatching an ambulance to the scene.

Gabriel Cuen-Butimea
Gabriel Cuen-Butimea was fatally shot on Kelly’s property.
Yesica Cuen

“There is nothing out here that could be aided by EMT or emergency services.”

The recordings, provided by the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office, reveal Kelly also contacted Border Patrol about the incident before calling 911, apparently because he believed the federal agency would respond to the scene faster.

A Border Patrol supervisor called the sheriff’s office about Kelly, reporting the rancher was being “intentionally vague” when supplying the agents with details over the shooting, according to a recording of the conversation.

“What he said was, ‘in checking his property, he believes that he possibly struck something.’ He said those words: possibly struck something,’” the supervisor reported.

The entrance to the ranch of George Alan Kelly of Nogales, Arizona.
Kelly’s ranch is about 150 feet from the US-Mexico border.
Jeff Topping

On Monday, Kelly pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in the death of Cuen-Buitimea, who was found on the rancher’s property, about 150 feet from the US-Mexico border.

Kelly’s defense claimed he thought was being besieged by armed traffickers — a fear they say was validated after watching other people carrying rifles pass through his property in the past — and that he shot over their heads in self-defense.

His defense attorney Brenna Larkin said in Santa Cruz County court her client was being targeted by smugglers who were intimidating witnesses and skewing the investigation.

Prosecutors lowered Kelly’s charge from a single count of first-degree murder, which would have required a finding of premeditated intent to kill and could have led to a death sentence.

He has been allowed to remain free on $1 million bail.

The County Attorney’s Office told The Post that footage from police body-worn cameras was not available, as they were not used in the incident.


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