CIUDAD, VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — Four Americans traveling to Mexico last week seeking medical care were caught in a deadly shootout, kidnapped by heavily armed men and thrown into the backseat of a pickup truck. officials from both countries said on Monday.
The four were traveling Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in a statement on Sunday that the gunman opened fire shortly after entering the city of Matamoros from Brownsville, near the Gulf Coast, on the southernmost tip of Texas.
The FBI said, “All four Americans were put into a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men. The agency offered a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the kidnappers. I’m here.
Zalandria Brown, of Florence, South Carolina, said she has been in contact with the FBI and local authorities after learning that her brother Jindel Brown was one of the four victims.
“It’s like a bad dream you want to wake up from,” she said in a telephone interview. .”
Zalandria Brown said her brother and two friends in Myrtle Beach were accompanying a third friend who was going to Mexico for abdominal tuck surgery. A doctor advertising such an operation in Matamoros did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Brown said the group was very close and all traveled to help divide the driving duties. They were aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother had expressed some concerns.
“Jindel kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t be depressed,'” Brown said.
A video posted to social media on Friday showed men in assault rifles and tan body armor carrying four people into the bed of a white pickup truck in broad daylight. was alive and awake, but the other two appeared dead or injured. At least one person apparently lifted his head off the pavement before being dragged into the truck.
This scene shows the terrorism that has been rife for years in the city of Matamoros, which is ruled by a faction of the powerful Gulf drug cartel.Amidst the violence, thousands of Mexicans have gone missing in Tamaulipas alone.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday that “there was a conflict between the groups and they were detained”, but did not give details. He said he came to Mexico to buy medicine.
Tamaulipas chief prosecutor Irving Barrios told reporters that a Mexican woman was killed in Friday’s shooting. He did not specify whether she was killed in the same shootout in which her abduction took place.
A woman driving in Matamoros, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said she witnessed what she believed to be a shooting and a kidnapping.
The woman said her white minivan was rear-ended by another vehicle near an intersection, after which gunshots rang out. Another SUV was hoisted up and several armed men jumped out.
“Suddenly they (the gunmen) appeared in front of us,” she said. “I was in shock. ’”
She said the gunman forced a woman who was able to walk into the back of the pickup. Another person was brought into the truck, but was able to move his head.
“The other two dragged along the pavement, but I don’t know if they’re alive or dead,” she said.
Mexican authorities arrived minutes later.
Jindel Brown’s family has asked people to share relevant information with local authorities. His father Odell William Brown said the family is still looking for answers.
“I don’t know which way to go now,” he said. “I don’t know what it is”
The shootout in Matamoros on Friday was so bad that the US consulate issued a warning of the danger and local authorities warned people to evacuate. It was not immediately clear how the abductions were related to the violence.
US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Monday that an American was kidnapped at gunpoint and an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack. He said various U.S. law enforcement agencies are working with their Mexican counterparts to recover missing persons.
Authorities have not provided any other details about the victims.
President Joe Biden has been informed of the situation, White House press secretary Carine Jean-Pierre said on Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.
Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas are often not counted due to the history of cartels bringing their own bodies. Local media often avoid reporting such episodes due to safety concerns, creating an information vacuum.
The State Department warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Tamaulipas. However, U.S. citizens living in Brownsville and elsewhere in Texas cross frequently to visit family, attend medical appointments, and shop. It is also a transit point for travelers.
Matamoros, home of the Gulf Cartel, was once relatively peaceful. For years, a night out on the town has been part of a “bilateral vacation” for spring breakers who flock to Texas’ South Padre Island.
But the increase in cartel violence over the last 10 to 15 years has scared many of its businesses. Occasionally, US citizens are involved in combat.
In October 2014, three American brothers went missing near Matamoros and were later found shot and burned. Their parents said they were kidnapped by men in police attire, a police officer who identified himself as “Hercules.”
Barakat reported from Falls Church, Virginia. James Pollard, his AP writer from Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.