Matamoros, Mexico kidnapping: 2 US survivors to be treated in US hospital as bodies of 2 dead are examined, officials say


Two Americans have returned to the US from Mexico and are being treated at a hospital after an armed kidnapping killed two of their friends and spurred a days-long search for the US travelers who crossed the border for a medical procedure, say officials.

The four Americans were found in a “wooden house” in or near the Mexican border town of Matamoros, where they were abducted on Friday, Tamaulipas governor Américo Villarreal announced on Tuesday.

In the days they were missing, he said, the group had been taken to various places “to create confusion and prevent rescue attempts”.

Victims Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown were found dead at the scene, a US official familiar with the ongoing investigation told CNN. Their remains are expected to be repatriated to the US after a Mexican medical examiner completes a forensic examination to determine their cause of death, the source added.

The surviving travelers, Latavia Washington McGee and Eric Williams, were found alive and Washington McGee was not injured, Villarreal said.

However, Williams had been shot three times — once in one leg and twice in the other — and was taken to a Texas hospital for surgery, his wife, Michele Williams, told CNN. The FBI confirmed on Tuesday that Williams and Washington McGee were transported to a US hospital.

Williams was emotional when he spoke to his wife on the phone, Michele Williams told CNN, explaining that her husband considered Woodard and Brown his “brothers.” Their 11-year-old son was also happy to hear from his father, she said.

The close-knit group of friends had driven to Mexico from South Carolina so that Washington McGee — a mother of six — could undergo a medical procedure in Matamoros, two family members told CNN.

But the group never made it to the doctor’s office on Friday, family members said. According to the FBI, their car was intercepted by unidentified gunmen who shot at the Americans, loaded them into a vehicle and took them away from the crime scene. A Mexican bystander was also killed at the scene by a stray bullet, Villarreal said.

Investigators believe the Americans were targeted by a Mexican cartel that likely mistook them for Haitian drug smugglers, a US official familiar with the investigation told CNN.

One person has been detained in connection with the two deaths performing “surveillance functions of the victims,” ​​Villarreal said, but officials would not confirm whether the person has ties to a criminal organization.

The four friends had booked a hotel in Brownsville, Texas, and planned to drive across the border to Matamoros on Friday to have Washington McGee undergo cosmetic surgery, Washington McGee’s close friend, who did not want to be identified, told CNN.

The group crossed into Matamoros at about 9:18 a.m. Friday, Villarreal said.

After getting lost on the way to the clinic, the friends tried to communicate with the doctor’s office for directions, but had trouble communicating due to poor phone signal, the close friend said.

At one point while the friends were driving, unknown gunmen fired on their minivan and then loaded the Americans into their vehicle and took them away, according to the FBI. A Mexican official said on Tuesday that the gunmen were driving a pickup truck.

A video obtained by CNN that matches the incident shows a woman and other unidentified people roughly being loaded into a white pickup truck. The video shows the woman being pulled or pushed onto the back of the truck by two unidentified people, while a third visibly armed man watches before the men appear to be dragging at least two limp people onto the back of the truck . CNN has not independently confirmed that it is the four Americans shown in the video.

When Mexican authorities arrived on the scene, they noticed the Americans’ van had North Carolina license plates and contacted U.S. officials, who were able to verify the license plates, according to Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica.

Investigators began processing vehicles, obtaining ballistics and fingerprint data, taking biological samples for genetic profiles and collecting surveillance camera footage, Mexican officials said.

Police were able to identify the gunmen’s truck, Barrios Mojica said. Officials then launched “multiple searches” of various agencies, he said.

After days of searching, the Americans were finally found Tuesday morning in a home outside Matamoros, the attorney general said. At the scene, two of the friends were dead — identified by a source as Woodard and Brown — while Washington McGee and Williams were still alive.

While U.S. law enforcement was not involved in the on-site search, federal and local agencies in Mexico cooperated and a joint task force was created to communicate with U.S. officials, Barrios Mojica said.

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