Four Americans who traveled to Mexico last week for treatment were caught in a fatal shooting and were abducted by heavily armed men who threw them into the back of a pickup truck, officials said Monday. two countries.
The four were traveling Friday in a white van with North Carolina license plates. They came under fire shortly after entering the town of Matamoros from Brownsville, on the southern tip of Texas near the Gulf Coast, the FBI said in a statement Sunday.
“The four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” the FBI said. The bureau is offering a $50,000 reward for returning the victims and arresting the kidnappers.
Zalandria Brown of Florence, South Carolina, said she was in contact with the FBI and local officials after learning that her younger brother, Zindell Brown, was one of four victims.
“It’s like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” she said in a phone interview. “To see your family member thrown into the back of a truck and dragged around is just amazing.”
Zalandria Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, and two friends accompanied a third friend who was traveling to Mexico for a tummy tuck. A doctor who advertises such surgeries in Matamoros did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Brown said the group was extremely close and they all made the trip in part to help distribute driving duties. They were aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother had expressed some apprehension.
“Zindell kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t go down,'” Brown said.
Video posted to social media on Friday showed men with assault rifles and beige body armor loading the four people into the bed of a white van in broad daylight. One was alive and seated, but the others appeared dead or injured. At least one person appeared to lift their head from the curb before being dragged to the truck.
The scene illustrates the terror that has reigned for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of the powerful Gulf drug cartel that often fight each other. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans disappeared in the state of Tamaulipas alone.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that “there was a confrontation between groups, and they were arrested,” without providing details. He originally said the four Americans had come to Mexico to buy medicine.
Tamaulipas Chief Prosecutor Irving Barrios told reporters that a Mexican woman died in Friday’s shooting. He did not say whether she was killed in the same shooting where the kidnapping took place.
A woman driving in Matamoros who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals said she witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and kidnapping.
The white van was hit by another vehicle near an intersection and then shots rang out, the woman said. Another SUV arrived and several armed men got out.
“All of a sudden they (the gunmen) were in front of us,” she said. “I went into a state of shock, no one honked, no one moved. Everyone must have been thinking the same thing, ‘If we move, they’ll see us, or they might shoot us.’
She said the gunmen forced a woman, who was able to walk, into the back of a van. Another person was carried to the truck but could still move their head.
“The other two they dragged to the sidewalk, we don’t know if they were alive or dead,” she said.
Mexican authorities arrived a few minutes later.
Zindell Brown’s family has asked people to share any relevant information with local authorities. O’dell William Brown, her father, said the family was still looking for answers.
“I don’t know which direction to take right now,” he said. “We don’t know what is what.”
The shootings in Matamoros were so severe on Friday that the US consulate issued a danger alert and local authorities warned people to shelter in place. It was not immediately clear how the kidnappings could be linked to this violence.
US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Monday that the Americans were abducted at gunpoint and an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack. He said various U.S. legal agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover missing people.
Authorities did not provide any further details about the victims.
President Joe Biden had been made aware of the situation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. She declined to answer further questions, citing confidentiality concerns.
The victims of violence in Matamoros and other major border towns of Tamaulipas often go uncounted because the cartels have a history of taking their own bodies with them. Local media often avoid reporting such episodes for security reasons, creating an information vacuum.
The State Department warns US citizens not to travel to Tamaulipas. However, US citizens who live in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross over to visit family, attend medical appointments, or shop. It is also a waypoint for people traveling deeper into Mexico.
As the seat of the Gulf Cartel, Matamoros was once relatively quiet. For years, a night out on the town was part of a “vacation between two nations” for spring breakers who flocked to South Padre Island in Texas.
But increase in cartel violence over the past 10-15 years scared off much of this business. Sometimes American citizens are drawn into the fighting.
Three American siblings disappeared near Matamoros in October 2014 while visiting their father and were later found shot and burned. Their parents said they were abducted by men dressed in police uniforms posing as “Hercules”, a tactical security unit in the city.
Barakat reported from Falls Church, Virginia. Associated Press writer James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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