Two out of four Americans who were abducted in Mexico last week have returned to the US, one of them with a non-life-threatening leg injury. The other two members of the group, who were in Mexico for cosmetic surgery, were killed in a drug cartel shootout in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state. The Americans had crossed the border only a few hours before the shooting occurred. No ransom was demanded, and the U.S. travelers were apparently victims of mistaken identity. They were kidnapped after the attack but were later found in a house outside Matamoros. One suspect has been arrested. Autopsies are being conducted to determine the cause and time of death of the deceased Americans. The survivors were transported to the US by Mexican authorities with military escort. The injured survivor is Eric Williams, while the unharmed one is Latavia Washington McGee.
Justice Department vows ‘relentless’ pursuit of those who perpetrated attack
According to a source familiar with the investigation, federal investigators believe that the Americans were mistakenly targeted, and there was no indication that they were in Mexico for any reason other than a medical procedure. The FBI released a statement on Tuesday stating that the investigation is ongoing, and they will work with other federal and international partners to determine what happened and hold those responsible accountable. Attorney General Merrick Garland offered his condolences to the families of the victims and stated that the Justice Department will work tirelessly to pursue justice on their behalf. The two surviving victims are currently receiving medical treatment in the United States.
How did the kidnapping happen?
Two Americans who were abducted in Mexico and survived a violent attack last week have returned to the United States, while two others were killed. The group was reportedly traveling to Mexico for cosmetic surgery when they were caught in a drug cartel shootout in the border city of Matamoros. Mexican authorities believe the Americans were victims of mistaken identity and no ransom was demanded. The survivors were rushed to the US for medical treatment, and the FBI is continuing to investigate the incident. The Justice Department has vowed to pursue justice on behalf of the victims. The kidnapping occurred after the Americans crossed the border in a minivan with North Carolina license plates and were fired upon by gunmen.
‘We shouldn’t go down’: Why Americans had traveled to Mexico
Zalandrea Brown of Florence, South Carolina, whose brother Zindel Brown was one of the two Americans killed, said the four had traveled from South Carolina so one of them could have a tummy tuck in Matamoros.
“It’s like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” she told the Associated Press. “Seeing a member of your family get thrown into the back of a truck and dragged away, it’s unbelievable.”
Brown said the group was very close and they all made the trip in part to split the lead. She added that they were aware of the dangers in Mexico, and her brother had expressed some concerns.
“Sindel kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t come down,'” Brown said.
Garland says US fighting to ‘dismantle and disrupt’ cartels
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday that he was briefed on the status of the kidnapped Americans by the FBI, which has been working with Mexican authorities along with officials from the Departments of Justice and State. He offered his condolences to the victims and their families.
In a general reference to the violence wrought by Mexican drug cartels, Garland said, “Look, the cartels are responsible for the deaths of Americans. … We’re fighting as hard as we can. The DEA and FBI are doing everything they can to dismantle, disrupt, and prosecute the cartel leaders and networks that They totally depend on it.”
US working with Mexico on investigation
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the Biden administration is working with Mexico to find out more about the kidnapping.
“We will work closely with the Mexican government to ensure that justice is served in this case,” Kirby said, adding that the Department of Justice is in touch with its Mexican counterpart. “At the moment, our immediate concerns center on the safe return of our citizens, and the health and well-being of the survivors.”
He said that attacks on American citizens are “unacceptable, no matter where and under what circumstances.”
The video appears to show an attack
Video posted on social media on Friday showed men with assault rifles and body armor loading four people into the bed of a white pickup truck in broad daylight.
One of them was alive and sat down, but the rest looked either dead or wounded. At least one person appeared to lift his head off the pavement before being dragged onto the truck.
Mexican President criticizes US media coverage
The Mexican president complained about the coverage of the incident in the United States, accusing the media of sensationalizing the events.
“It’s not like that when they kill Mexicans in the United States, they shut up like mummies,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“It’s very unfortunate. They (the US government) have the same right to protest as they do,” he said. “We’re really sorry that this is happening in our country.”
How does the United States respond?
US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said that many US justice agencies are working with their Mexican counterparts in law enforcement.
White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was aware of the situation and was “closely following the assault and kidnapping”.
It said the US Department of Homeland Security was also coordinating with Mexican authorities to “bring those responsible to justice”.
Jean-Pierre declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.
When the Americas were kidnapped, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for any information leading to their return and the arrest of those responsible for the attack.
Matamoros, Tamaulipas under US travel warnings
The US State Department has issued Level 4: No-travel advice for US citizens in Tamaulipas, citing crime and kidnapping there. The alert level is the same as the travel designation given to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
The kidnapping illustrates the terror that has reigned for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of powerful drug cartels that often fight among themselves.
Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared in the state of Tamaulipas alone.
The attack may raise concerns among American travelers to Mexico
The kidnapping and murder of Americans visiting Mexico likely involved travelers and at least one expert.
“I’m sure people will take a pause after this horrific incident,” Gabe Pickford, author of the travel blog Packs Light, told USA TODAY. “It will remind me not to be complacent about my safety precautions and to always be mindful of my surroundings.”
Mexico is one of the top destinations for Americans — nearly 29 million traveled to Mexico in 2021, according to data researcher Statista. US State Department statistics show that approximately 75 US citizens died in Mexico by homicide that year.
Pickford, who spent two months traveling through Mexico last year visiting Hildago, Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas and Oaxaca, said there are cities in Mexico where she feels “as safe as some in the United States” but said travelers should watch for warnings ahead of time and find Online communities where they are likely to get “the locals’ perspective on where to go, not travel, and travel safely”.