By JALA WASHINGTON, KFOX
EL PASO, Texas (CIRCA via KFOX) — A museum employee says a group of protesters defaced a place to honor and pray for fallen Border Patrol agents in the Border Patrol Museum.
A Border Patrol Museum employee who confronted the group estimates there were about 50 people.
This employee, who has asked not to be identified for her protection, said she feels the invasion and vandalism were politically motivated.
"You couldn't see their faces; they had a lot of posters,” the employee said. “They were marching, they were singing, they were being loud."
The employee said she tried over and over to get protesters to leave.
"The visitors saw it, and they took cover in our gift shop in the very, very back,” she said.
There was vandalism to the museum’s sacred memorial room. In photos, you can see pictures of children who have recently died in Border Patrol custody plastered over the faces of fallen Border Patrol agents.
"The museum is there to educate them. We have nothing to do with what's going on out there."
"We weren't physically assaulted, but we were just verbally assaulted and harassed,” said the employee.
The protesters, known as Tornillo: The Occupation, disagree with this employee's account of events. In an interview with Circa, a spokesperson for the group says they were not there to harass employees, and that there is video proof that only chants and songs were sung — no verbal assault.
"We were there to address a broken and inhumane immigration system and pay homage to the children who have died in border patrol custody," the spokesperson said in an interview via Facebook. "Nowhere in the museum would you ever find the fact that it has been a problematic entity in its treatment of the indigenous people of this land and asylum-seekers."
The protesters say they protested inside the museum's sacred memorial room because "there is nothing more sacred than lifting up the names of the children that were taken from us."
"Our reclamation of the space was to highlight the voices that were missing from this memorial and the human-rights violations inflicted upon them. They died in border patrol spaces. They deserve to be remembered in border patrol spaces," the spokesperson said. "We won't let anyone forget them or the system that killed them."
The employee alleges harassment by the group lasted about 30 minutes, leaving her and others feeling threatened and afraid.
"The museum is there to educate them,” said the employee. “We have nothing to do with what's going on out there."
The museum, secured and closely monitored, sits still on the corner of a busy freeway in El Paso, Texas. The Border Patrol Agents Family Network said it’s waiting to see how much damages will cost. The museum stays afloat by donations from the community.