Four Americans were towed away in a pickup truck after they were allegedly caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival drug gangs.
Four Americans were caught in a shootout with a drug cartel in Mexico, killing two and holding the others captive in a remote area for days before being rescued.
Their minibus crashed and was fired upon shortly after entering the border town of Matamoros in Tamaulipas state on Friday. A stray bullet also killed a Mexican woman nearby.
The four Americans were taken away in a pickup truck. Mexican authorities searched frantically as the alleged cartel moved them — even taking them to a medical clinic — “to create confusion and avoid attempts to rescue them,” Tamaulipas governor Américo Villarreal said.
They were found Tuesday in a wooden cabin guarded by an arrested man. US police were not involved in the search.
Here’s what we know so far:
Why were the Americans in Mexico?
According to news reports, the group consisted of Eric Williams, Latavia McGee, Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown. Woodard and Brown were killed.
A relative of one of the victims said the four had traveled together from the Carolinas so that one of them could have cosmetic surgery by a doctor in Matamoros.
“This is like a bad dream you want to wake up from,” says Zalandria Brown, Zindell’s older sister.
What happened to the Americans?
Videos and photos taken during and immediately after the attack show the Americans’ white minibus sitting next to another vehicle, with at least one bullet hole in the driver’s side window. According to a witness, the two vehicles collided. Almost immediately, several men wearing tactical vests and assault rifles arrived in another vehicle to surround the scene.
Reports suggest that the kidnappings may have been a case of mistaken identity. The Mexican authorities’ hypothesis is “it was confusion, not direct attack”.
The gunmen loaded one of the Americans into the back of a white pickup and then dragged and loaded the three others. Terrified civilian motorists sat silently in their cars, hoping not to attract attention. Two of the victims appeared motionless.
Who’s to blame?
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland blamed Mexican drug cartels for the deaths. “The DEA and the FBI are doing everything they can to dismantle and disrupt and ultimately prosecute the leaders of the cartels and the entire networks they depend on,” Garland said. said.
The FBI offered a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the kidnappers.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said those responsible would be punished, citing arrests in the 2019 murder of nine US-Mexican dual citizens in Sonora, near the border.
State Department spokesman Ned Price thanked Mexican authorities for the rescue. “Ultimately, we want to be held accountable for the violence inflicted on these Americans that tragically led to the deaths of two of them,” he said.
Where are they now?
The surviving Americans were returned to American soil on Tuesday in Brownsville, the southernmost tip of Texas and just across the border from Matamoros. A convoy of ambulances and SUVs was escorted by Mexican military Humvees and National Guard trucks with mounted machine guns.
The survivors were taken by FBI escort to Valley Regional Medical Center, the Brownsville Herald reported. Villarreal said Williams was shot in the left leg and the injury was not life-threatening.
The bodies of Woodard and Brown will be handed over to US authorities following forensic work at the Matamoros morgue.
How is the situation in Matamoros?
Matamoros has a population of about 500,000 and is located across the Rio Grande from Brownsville.
The shootings illustrate the terror that has reigned for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of the powerful Gulf drug cartel that often fight among themselves. Thousands of Mexicans have disappeared amid the violence in the state of Tamaulipas alone.
López Obrador bemoaned the “sensational” coverage of the US media, saying that when Mexicans are killed, they become “silent as mummies”.
“We deeply regret that this is happening in our country,” he said.