Two Americans were dead, two were back in the US and many questions remained unanswered Wednesday after a bizarre shooting rampage, abduction and rescue in a Mexican border city.
Irving Barrios, attorney general in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, said that no ransom was demanded after Friday’s assault and that a preliminary investigation indicated the US travelers were victims of mistaken identity. They were found Tuesday around 8 a.m. in a shack outside Matamoros, Barrios said.
A suspect standing guard over them, identified only as Jose Guadalupe N., 24, was arrested. Authorities were searching for others involved, and the FBI has offered a $50,000 reward for their arrest.
The mother of one of the survivors told ABC News her daughter was in Mexico for the cosmetic surgery known as a “tummy tuck.” US and Mexican authorities continued to investigate the incident.
“Investigation and intelligence work continues to capture those responsible,” Barrios tweeted. US Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the Justice Department would be “relentless in pursuing justice” on behalf of the Americans.
Americo Villarreal, governor of Tamaulipas, said the four Americans had crossed into Mexico 2½ hours before the shootout erupted in Matamoros. The cartel moved the hostages around to try to evade teams sent to rescue them, Villarreal said.
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Matamoros, a cartel-scarred Mexican border city, wonders what’s next
The attacks highlight how abductions, killings or other violence can plague a Mexican community but draw little public outcry when they involve Mexicans or migrants. And with details about the Americans’ deadly venture still scarce, it was unclear how either law enforcement or regular travel could be affected by the case going forward.
To have cartel gunmen shoot and kidnap Americans without provocation seems like a departure from their modus operandi, said Brendon Tucker, who lived and worked in Matamoros in 2019 helping asylum-seekers through an advocacy agency.
“I would be absolutely blown away if they were targeted on purpose,” Tucker said. Cartels “are going to do everything in their power not to put their foot in the ant pile that is the United States government. … There is no way for a cartel to have done this for it to be beneficial to them.” Read more here.
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Will killings, abductions discourage travel to Mexico?
With its warm climate, beautiful beaches and proximity to the US, Mexico is a popular tourist destination for many Americans. But some people may be reconsidering their travel plans after the events of the past week.
Nearly 29 million Americans will travel to Mexico in 2021, according to data researcher Statista. About 75 American citizens died by homicide in Mexico that year, according to the most recent US State Department statistics.
“I’m sure people will have some pause after such a graphic and horrific incident,” said Gabby Beckford, a Seattle-based travel influencer who took a two-month excursion across Mexico last year. “This will remind me not to be lax about my safety precautions and to always be mindful of my surroundings.” Read more here.
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Convoy whisked surviving Americans back to US
The surviving Americans were returned to the US on Tuesday, crossing the border back into Brownsville, Texas. The convoy of ambulances and SUVs was escorted by Mexican military Humvees and National Guard trucks with mounted machine guns. One of the survivors, identified as Eric Williams, 38, had been shot in the leg. The other survivor was identified as Latavia McGee. She was unharmed.
Barrios said the bodies of the two deceased Americans – identified by authorities as Shaeed Woodard, 33, and Zindell Brown, in his 20s – remained in Mexico pending autopsies to determine the time and cause of death.
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Victims’ families say the Americans went to Mexico for surgery
Barbara Burgess, McGee’s mother, told ABC News her daughter was going for tummy-tuck surgery. Burgess said she had warned her daughter not to go, but McGee told her: “Ma, I’ll be OK.”
Robert Williams, Eric’s brother, told The Associated Press that he and his brother are from South Carolina but now live in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina. Williams described his brother as “easygoing” and “fun-spirited.”
He didn’t know his brother was traveling to Mexico until after the abduction hit the news. From looking at his brother’s Facebook posts, Williams said, he believes his brother did not consider the trip dangerous but “thought it would be fun.”
When told that his brother was among the survivors Tuesday, Williams said that when they meet, “I’ll just tell him how happy I am to see him, and how glad I am that he made it through, and that I love him. “
VICTIMS IDENTIFIED:2 kidnapped Americans found dead in Mexico, 2 survivors have returned to the US
How did the abductions unfold?
The Americans crossed the border in a minivan with North Carolina license plates, according to Mexican officials and Special Agent Oliver Rich, who is in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio Division. The unidentified gunmen opened fire before the four Americans were placed in a pickup and rushed away. A 33-year-old woman about a block and a half away was killed by a stray bullet, Barrios said.
A video posted to social media Friday showed men with assault rifles and body armor loading the four people into the bed of a white pickup in broad daylight. One was alive and sitting up, but the others appeared either dead or wounded. At least one person appeared to lift their head from the pavement before being dragged to the truck.
A woman driving in Matamoros who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal told The Associated Press she witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and abduction.
“All of a sudden (the gunmen) were in front of us,” she said. “I entered a state of shock, nobody honked their horn, nobody moved. Everybody must have been thinking the same thing: ‘If we move they will see us, or they might shoot us.'”
Contributing: The Associated Press