CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — A trip to Mexico for cosmetic surgery went awry when four Americans were caught in a shootout with a drug cartel, leaving two dead and two held captive for days in a remote Gulf Coast region, before than they were rescued from the wooden hut, officials said Tuesday.
Their minivan crashed and was fired upon Shortly after they crossed into the border city of Matamoras on Friday as drug cartel factions tore up the streets, the region’s governor said. A stray bullet also killed a Mexican woman about a block and a half away.
The four Americans were taken away in a pickup truck, and Mexican authorities searched frantically as the cartel moved them around — even taking them to a medical clinic — “to create confusion and avoid efforts to rescue them,” Tamaulipas Gov. América Villarreal said.
They were found on Tuesday in a wooden hut guarded by an arrested man in a rural area east of Matamoras called Ejido Tecalote on the way to a bay called “Baghdad Beach” According to state Attorney General Irving Barrios.
The surviving Americans were brought back to US soil Tuesday in Brownsville, the southernmost tip of Texas and just across the border from Matamoros. The convoy of ambulances and SUVs was accompanied by Mexican military Humvees and National Guard trucks with mounted machine guns.
A relative of one of the victims said Monday that the four were traveling together from the Carolinas so one of them could have a tummy tuck at a doctor in Matamoras.
The governor said that the wounded American Eric Williams was wounded in the left leg and his life is not in danger.
“It’s a big relief,” said Robert Williams, Eric’s 38-year-old brother, reached Tuesday in North Carolina. “I’m looking forward to seeing him again and being able to talk to him.”
Robert Williams wasn’t sure the other survivor, Latavia Burgess, was the one seeking the surgery.
The survivors were taken to Valley Regional Medical Center under an FBI escort, the Brownsville Herald reported. informed. A hospital spokeswoman referred all inquiries to the FBI.
The governor said the two dead, Shaid Woodard, 33, and Zindell Brown, in his 20s, would be turned over to U.S. authorities after a forensic examination at the Matamoras morgue.
Video and photos taken during and immediately after Friday’s abduction show the Americans’ white minivan sitting next to another car with at least one bullet hole in the driver’s side window. An eyewitness reported that two vehicles collided. Almost immediately, several men in tactical vests and assault rifles arrived in another vehicle to surround the scene.
The hypothesis of the Mexican authorities is that “it was a mix-up and not a direct attack”, the public prosecutor said.
The gunmen led one of the Americans into the back of a white pickup truck, then dragged and loaded the other three. Terrified civilian motorists sat silently in their cars, hoping not to draw attention to themselves. Two of the victims were motionless.
The shooting illustrates the terror that has reigned for years in Matamoras, a city dominated by gangs of the powerful Gulf drug cartel, which often fight among themselves. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared in the state of Tamaulipas alone.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Abrador said those responsible would be punished. He cited the 2019 arrests for the murders of nine US-Mexican dual citizens in Sonora near the US border.
López Abrador complained about the US media’s coverage of the missing Americans, accusing them of sensationalism. He said that when Mexicans are killed, the media “go silent like mummies.”
“We really regret that this is happening in our country,” he said, adding that the US government had every right to be upset by the violence.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland blamed drug cartels for the deaths
“The DEA and the FBI are doing everything they can to dismantle and disrupt and ultimately bring to justice the leaders of the cartels and the entire networks on which they depend,” Garland said.
The FBI offered a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the kidnappers.
Robert Williams said in a phone interview that he and his brother Eric are from South Carolina but now live in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina.
Williams described his brother as “calm” and “cheerful.”
He didn’t know his brother was going to Mexico until the kidnapping hit the news. But looking at his brother’s Facebook posts, he believes his brother didn’t think the trip was dangerous.
“He thought it would be fun,” Williams said.
When told Tuesday that his brother was among the survivors, Williams said that if they met, “I’ll just tell him how glad I am to see him, how glad I am that he survived and that I love him. »
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