Kidnappings in Mexico: what we know about the kidnapping of four US citizens in Matamoros

Four US citizens ambushed and kidnapped at gunpoint in Mexico have been found — two of them alive and two dead, officials said.

The FBI on Sunday appealed, offering a $50,000 reward for tips leading to the victims’ return and the arrest of their captors.

Relatives identified the Americans as Latavia “Tay” McGee, Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams, who had traveled from South Carolina for a medical procedure.

Officials said the group crossed the US border into Mexico on March 3. Not long after entering Matamoros – an area dominated by the Gulf Cartel – they came under fire from a group of gunmen and were bundled into the back of a pickup truck.

On Tuesday, Mexican authorities announced that two of the victims had been found dead, while two survivors, one injured and one unharmed, are now back in the US and are being cared for by the FBI. The identities of the two dead have not been released.

At least one person has been arrested, according to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Here’s everything we know so far about the terrifying case:

Ambushed upon arrival from Texas

According to the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico, the group had entered the northeastern Gulf Coast state of Tamaulipas from Brownsville, Texas, on March 3 in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates.

Shortly after entering the country, they were attacked by gunmen in the border town of Matamoros.

After firing at the van, the attackers moved the passengers to another vehicle and chased them away from the scene, the embassy said.

On Monday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the group was in the country to buy drugs.

A photo reportedly shows the white minibus from which four Americans were abducted on March 3, 2023 in Matamoros, Mexico

(Elephant Blanco)

“The information we have is that they crossed the border to buy medicines in Mexico, there was a confrontation between groups and they were detained,” the president said. “The whole government is working on it.”

An anonymous US official said the four Americans were not the intended target and had traveled to Matamoros for medical procedures. US officials familiar with the investigation told CNN authorities believe a Mexican cartel mistook the victims for Haitian drug smugglers.

Video claims to show attack

A video widely shared on social media, reportedly filmed in the city on Friday, shows people being dragged and dumped into the back of a white flatbed truck parked in the middle of a busy street by gunmen wearing body armor.

The video has not been officially verified and the FBI has not commented publicly on it.

Notorious as a center of gang violence and illegal migrant smuggling, Matamoros is dominated by the Gulf drug cartel.

(The Independent/Datawrapper)

The Tamaulipas state police said on its social media channel that people had been killed and injured in two gun battles in Matamoros on Friday in which neither the military nor police were involved, but did not provide further details about the shootings or say whether the kidnappings were related.

“There have been two armed incidents between unidentified civilians,” it said. “The exact number of cases is confirmed.”

Photos have now been released of the abandoned car, with visible bullet holes.

A member of the Mexican security forces stands next to the white minibus of the four kidnapped Americans in Matamoros


Victims identified

The Americans involved were identified by their loved ones as Zindell Brown, Shaeed Woodard, LaTavia “Tay” McGee and Eric James Williams, all of whom are from South Carolina. Mr. Williams’s North Carolina driver’s license was reportedly found at the scene.

Christina Hickson, Mr Brown’s mother, told WPDE her son had gone on a trip to support a friend who was undergoing a medical procedure in Mexico and said she recognized him in footage of the shocking incident.

“I knew right away it was him. And you know, even when I watch them put them on the back of the truck. I was able to track all of them as they would be placed on the truck,” Ms. Hickson said.

“The waiting is the worst. It has its pros and cons. However, no news is good news. That’s how I stay. No news is good news and that is what will give me the guts.”

Mr Brown’s sister, Zalandria Brown, told the Associated Press: “This is like a bad dream you would like to wake up from.”

(Family Handout)

(Shaeed Woodard/Facebook)

Barbara Burgess, 54, Ms McGee’s mother, told ABC News that it was her daughter who was visiting Mexico for a tummy tuck and she had warned her not to go, but she insisted she be fine.

However, US officials have not yet formally identified the four.

Official response

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that attacks on American citizens under any circumstances are unacceptable.

Ms Jean-Pierre said more information will be released after family members of the two fatalities and two kidnapping survivors have been notified of any developments in the case by US officials.

She also noted that the Biden administration remains committed to “disrupting transnational criminal organizations, including Mexican drug cartels and people smugglers.”

“We remain committed to using the full weight of our efforts and resources to counter them,” said Ms Jean-Pierre.

Our immediate concerns are the safe return of our citizens, the health and well-being of those who survived this attack, and the support to be provided to the families of those in need.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also condemned the attack on US citizens and promised justice for their families.

“We appreciate the hard work of the Justice Department, the FBI and DEA and the Department of Homeland Security…we are grateful for their prompt response to this terrible incident and for their continued cooperation with Mexican authorities,” Kirby said. to reporters.

“We will work closely with the Mexican government to ensure that justice is done in this case.”

Asked if the White House is considering policy changes in response to the attack, Mr Kirby said there were no immediate remedies but insisted that US authorities work extensively to recover the bodies of the fatal victim and survivors on American soil.

“Right now our focus is entirely on these four Americans and the families affected by the attack and I think you will hear more from the Justice Department as they learn more and have more to say,” he added please. “But it’s just too early for me to speak about any policy changes or vectors as a result of this attack.”

Ken Salazar, the US ambassador to Mexico, revealed in a statement that an innocent Mexican bystander was also killed in the incident, stating: “We have no higher priority than the safety of our citizens. This is the most fundamental role of the US government.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News he would introduce legislation to “pave the way” for Mexico’s use of military force to fight the drug cartel.

Mr Graham made the remarks on Jesse Watters’ show on Monday night and said he would “put legislation in place to make certain Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under US law and pave the way for them to use military force if necessary. “

“I would notify Mexico,” said Graham. “If you continue to provide a safe haven for drug dealers, you are an enemy of the United States.”

Military action in Mexico requires an authorization for the use of military force in Congress, which in turn must be approved by both houses of Congress.

Americans advise against travel

The United States Department of State has advised Americans not to travel to Tamaulipas due to the risk of crime and kidnapping, and the region is listed as a “Level 4: Do Not Travel”.

The US consulate in Matamoros on Friday issued a warning to its employees in response to the latest outbreak of violence.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the FBI San Antonio Division at 210-225-6741 or submit tips online anonymously here.

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