Ask the Filmmaker: The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández’s Kieran Fitzgerald

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Kieran FitzgeraldKieran Fitzgerald was only 17 years old in 1997 when a team of Marines shot and killed an innocent American citizen on the Texas-Mexico border. The film, narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, recounts the shooting and killing of a young American named Esequiel Hernández in 1997 by U.S. Marines patrolling the border as part of a counterdrug operation that had been ongoing since the late 1980s.

In our interview with Kieran, he tells us why he felt it was important to bring public attention back to this story:

I wanted to recover this story that had been lost from our recent history, and so I started interviewing people along the border, and seeking out the various parties involved in the story, including the FBI, the marines, and the family of Esequiel Hernández. I wanted to get a comprehensive account of the story.

Read more from Kieran’s interview, and learn how he gained the trust of the film’s subjects, or listen to our extended podcast interview.

Do you have a question for Kieran about The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández and how the war on drugs has affected life along the Texas-Mexico border? You can submit it in the comment field below. He’ll choose a selection of questions to respond to, so check back here after the film airs to see what he has to say.

7/16/08 Update: Unfortunately, Kieran Fitzgerald is no longer available to answer viewer questions. Kieran chose a number of questions from the comments below and answered them on the POV Blog the week following the broadcast. See what he had to say.

Catherine Jhee
Catherine Jhee
Catherine Jhee was formerly a producer with POV Interactive.
  • Meredith Hubbell

    FOREIGNID: 16623
    The guy in the interview who said, “it’s not like Iraq where you get to shoot people”, really drives home the whole power trip that the U.S. military has. I cannot believe that someone would say such a thing with no hesitation and such pride. If one of those 4 men were shot, accidentally by Hernandez, he would have been executed. The U.S. is high on EGo and Deceptions. Recognize your faults and move on. By the way, who was that officer who said that? I would like to give him a piece of my mind.

  • robert

    FOREIGNID: 16624
    hi. what equipment did you use to shoot and edit your documentary?

  • Bob

    FOREIGNID: 16625
    Excellent documentary. Clearly any law enforcement officer in the same situation would have been charged with manslaughter, at the least.
    One question: Who was Commander in Chief of the US Military in 1997, and why wasn’t that person’s name mentioned once during the 2.5 hour film?

  • Kevin P

    FOREIGNID: 16626
    Hey Merdith , those egotist and deceptions keep you out of the gulag.

  • ROB

    FOREIGNID: 16627
    in 1997 Bill clinton was president. Why did you feel like Bush should play such a prominenbt role in your show?

  • justin moss

    FOREIGNID: 16628
    hernandez mistook the marines as a dog, the marines mistook hernandez as a combatant drug dealer. BOTH were wrong. Who shot first? Would you have done a 2.5 hr. film on the marine, (his family and any other person you could find) who may have died because of a gun shot inflicted from Hernandez? Doubtly.

  • Shawn McCreight

    FOREIGNID: 16629
    We have a border. We should not have allowed people to cross so freely as they did. Shame on us. I love the comment about Clinton’s name not being mentioned. Clearly you as a director hate Bush. That was clear when you show that sinister shot of him at the end. Your true bias was loud and clear from the start and quite imature. Such lack of respect for our border and our military heros keeping us safe. Regardless, I would still go back to Iraq or anywhere to insure that you have the right to say those things or spit on our country or any other thing you would like to say. God bless America and our borders.
    Shawn McCreight

  • Tony

    FOREIGNID: 16630
    Esequiel Hernandez shooting at any unknown target is not only unsafe but unethical. All states I’ve been in have hunter safety and hunting laws that are necessary for three basic reasons: 1. to insure the safety and welfare of people. 2. To insure everyone equal opportunity to hunt. & 3. To protect and conserve wildlife. Do people along the border shoot at things not knowing what thay are? As far as the non-legal border crossing, I say shut it down”

  • david

    FOREIGNID: 16631
    i try to put my self in the shorldiers shoes and try to figure a way they could prevent it no they shouldnt have approced the hernadez and he thought there was something ataccking the herd the question should be why was they there and not somewhere else they heard 2 shots at them u would get defensive in that situationthey even got permision to fire if fire apon again witch is rules of engagement but the question is how many rounds where fired and even at 100 meters all of them didnt get a good sight of him to see if he was pointing at him this is hard to protectt the border if on land 1 person to every 6 miles on sea every 200 miles how can we make it beter we need more like china bigger walls we need to stop letting our trucker go down and bring them accros we cant win on the border they need help in mexico but we need help her to they are taking our jobs and bringing the drugs up for money

  • joan slaughter

    FOREIGNID: 16632
    Your film implies that putting up a fence and enforcing our valid laws of immigration are somehow the bad guy – If grandma lives on the other side of 12,000-years-of-historical crossing, are we going to avoid enforcing our policies so the grandkids can keep visiting at will? Come on liberals – you are just using this emotionally packed story to present your propaganda against conservatives’ hopes for enforcing a lawful immigration policy. I’m so tired of the liberal gush from the mainstream media. Ugh!

  • david

    FOREIGNID: 16633
    i am ex military and my brother in law is a mexican mexico he is in iraq like i was we cant win this batle till we close the borders as far as the shoulders they did it exactly the way they were told and even asked for permision if u where shot at what would u do sit there and wait for them to shoot again maybe they shouldnt have followed him maybe they should have got a better view but they seen him holding the gun they thought he was getting better postion and from 100 metershe should have knocked him down we r not trained in these situtions which is not brought up and its ironic that its in between the bushes that did it the press always protects the demacrats and the movie stars who use it against us if we was to do it right protecting the border we would not be 1 person on ground for every 6 miles or 1 person for every 200 miles of ocean we could build a wall but we still let our truckers go down and cross the borders and bring ppl over and drugs y dont we start there and set up more oversevation post we cant even gourd our own bases it to easy to get in its ironic that oboma was trained by special froces right in fort bragg we was one who trained him so we could get info from him

  • Leo Johnson

    FOREIGNID: 16634
    I remember when this story first hit the news. I was appalled. Our government and those by whom and for whom it operates will break any law (posse commitatus), tell any lie (a list too long to mention and covering every year any government in history has operated), and justify any crime (killing innocent civilians at all times in our history and in any location around the globe). Your retelling of the story made my blood boil again! And not just for the crimes of the Marines and their overlords depicted. What was not depicted or alluded to was the fact that the administration in power at the time was that of Bill, Hillary and Janet. They are just as infamous as Nixon, Bush I and Bush II. I decided that you were probably part of the problem, rather than a help in revealing A SELECTED PART of our egregious history, because you completely neglected the fact that the above triumverate was coordinating the official U.S. response to the killing of the young shepherd AND will be remembered by those with a less biased view as the same trio who killed and/or burned to death 87 men, women and children in Waco, where? Texas, of course. And, if I remember correctly, with the support of the armed forces of the U.S. government involved. Don’t you remember that?

  • anoosh

    FOREIGNID: 16635
    A powefull documentary, I wonder if there will ever be a day when we won’t need guns!
    Where do I find additional info onthe music of the documentary

  • Josiah

    FOREIGNID: 16636
    This documentary’s fact checking is very questionable… 1970 at Kent State was not the last time the military killed American civilians, 1992 during the L.A. Riots three were killed by the Army National Guard, all three were fully justified. It seems like you wanted to make the inference that whenever the military is involved in stateside action, only innocent people are killed. That is absolutely wrong and I hope you and your staff makes the appropriate corrections.
    I know about those three because my dad was in the California National Guard (185th Armor) and was one of the first 2,000 Guardsmen sent to the riots. I’m also sure that if some real research is done more examples could be found between 1970 and 1997, most likely fully justified.
    I do agree with you that the military should never be involved with non-emergency law enforcement activities. Only in riots or natural disasters were the existing law enforcement is disabled is the only time they should be called in.

  • Rick Skelton

    FOREIGNID: 16637
    P.O.V. has some of the most interesting programs…thanks PBS…and thanks also to the film’s director, Kieran Fitzgerald. I grew up in open West Texas. We had open range & fields… several miles between the closest neighbor. I carried a .22 rifle many times while bringing the cows up during the evening to be corraled for the night. At times I would take a shot at a rabbit in the distance, or just “plink” at a cactus to test my aim…I was never watched by Marines in full combat “sniper gear”…I was never confused to be a drug runner…and I was never a threat to be “neturalized” by any military soldier! And; Esequiel Hernandez should never have been! What a tradgey…The government owes much more than an apology to the Hernandez family…it owes the Hernandez family “Justice”!

  • Debbie

    FOREIGNID: 16638
    Kieran, I hope the family of Esequiel Hernandez gain some comfort from the fact that their son’s story is seeing the light of day. I have family who have had long military careers and the actions and attitudes of some of these men on your documentary is nothing short of an embarrassment to humanity. It is a shame that an 18 year old child can be shot in the back, left to die and it is somehow “justified” in their minds. One of the killers is smirking as he wants you to feel grateful that he was in the military…. after I took a long breath, I only felt sick to my stomach that that man is not behind bars for covering up a murder.

  • david

    FOREIGNID: 16639
    y wont u paste what i say

  • Josiah

    FOREIGNID: 16640
    To Leo Johnson
    Waco did involve the military but it wasn’t a military operation… the ATF and FBI was in FULL command of the operations, and they followed direct orders handed down to them. It was a direct order from the FBI to open fire on the compound, they had intended to punch holes through the wall so they could escape but it just collapsed the wall and started that fire. The FBI gave the order to fire, the FBI was fully responsible for the resulting deaths, not the military.
    What this documentary was talking about and what I was talking about in my post here and the main thread, is where the military is deployed by the state/federal government to carry out a certain mission, but the military has antonymous control of the men carrying out the mission, when they radioed in about the kid they were talking to their commander, not a boarder patrolmen. (or to parallel Waco, an FBI agent)

  • mike vokes

    FOREIGNID: 16641
    I think you did Bill Clinton proud on this one-did you mention that this event occured while he was president-a move “slick Willie” could appreciate-show both the President’s Bush to get outrage and shift the blame-Clinton did this also to get us to think “Black Hawk down” was also a “blame it on Bush” event.

  • Ava Hernandez

    FOREIGNID: 16642
    Hi, I would like to know the director’s availability (honorarium, etc) to come and discuss this film at our university.

  • Ed

    FOREIGNID: 16643
    It seems as if human life becomes more and more cheapened as the govern ment grops aimlessly in its’ war on terrorism and at the border. It is clear that there were so many things that went wrong in the investigation that people from the white house through the military, border patrol and local police should have been locked up for obstruction of justice. Additionally, it is again perfectly clear that those jarheads just wanted to kill someone. If they were gathering intelligence, they shoud have remained out of sight. Only a bonehead jarhead would expose himself to hostile fire. The defense attorney should just sit down and shut up. He did a masterful job of make the Viet Nam war akin to a border crossing patrol. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that a city slicker lawyer manipulated the public and the legal system to allow an innocent, innocent boy to be legally killed and no one be held accountable. I bet you dollars to donuts that the premeditated murder would have remained unreported if the murdered victim had not been an American citizen. Living in America but dying at the border. MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS.

  • Pat

    FOREIGNID: 16644
    He shouldn’t of shot first. Everyone should only be crossing the border via the proper entry, not just any where.

  • bobby wilkinson

    FOREIGNID: 16645
    This documentary, narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, is eerily similar to his 2005 movie, “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” But in the movie the “goat herder” was shooting at coyotes in the direction of a border patrol officer who then shot him dead. I can see how a person without binoculars could mistake those camoflauged men for dogs or coyotes at over 200 yards. You would think our highly trained military smartmouths could also. What a shame that young American’s life was wasted for no reason. That soldier should have went to prison or had done to him what Tommy Lee did to the border patrol officer in the movie.

  • Mark Molina

    FOREIGNID: 16646
    While any loss of life it tragic, how you can possibly blame a Marine doing his job and duty is beyond me. The bias in this “film” was totally obvious. Just to reiterate, Clinton was the president in 1997, yet the only shot of Bill was of him making a “strong” statement. What next??? A documentary showing how the Bush family is responsible for the assassination of Kennedy??? It’s just more of the left wing dribble I’ve come to expect from PBS and POV.


    FOREIGNID: 31747
    In 1989, President GH Bush began his “War on Drugs” campaign; He ordered the Pentagon to the front lines of the drug war. A bill was introduced to allow military personnel to work in the field with Border Patrol to perfom anti drug reconnaissance missions; two mos later JTF6 was formed. This is for all the individuals who are upset that Pres Bush is getting a bad rap! Look it up first before you speak. As usual the conservatives what to accuse people before they actually know the facts. All ranting and no substance. You can look up this info – it’s pretty easy. I live in South Texas; I am a Chicana with a strong military family. I have had a member in each of the military branch; two nephews in the Iraq war. South Texas is very unique; it’s not usual for people to have guns/rifles especially if you live in the country. This isn’t Virginia! We have wide open spaces; you can travel for hours to get to the next town. I believe in the documentary, the filmmaker does point out the Marine training- which I interpret that the Marines really had no business there-not with their training. Also, something not pointed out in the documentary; 2 border agents were nearby – they heard the marines had spotted someone. They radioed in & were on there way; they made one stop to drop off a detainee. They arrived there to see the boy had been shot; the Marines were still there. No one explained why the Marines could not wait for the Border Patrol. Later, one of the Marines stated that they should have waited. Also, only one bullet casing was found from Hernandez’s rife. Bea Torrez

  • Aurelius

    FOREIGNID: 34074
    Everyone has a point of view but this should be labeled as the leftist, open borders, reconquista propaganda that it is.