4 kidnapped Americans have entered Mexico for healthcare

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico — Four Americans who traveled to Mexico last week to seek medical attention got caught up in a deadly shootout and were abducted by heavily armed men who threw them into the back of a pickup truck, officials from both countries said on Monday .

The four were traveling in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates on Friday. They came under fire shortly after entering the town of Matamoros from Brownsville on the southernmost tip of Texas near the Gulf Coast, the FBI said in a statement Sunday.

“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and removed from the scene by gunmen,” the FBI said. The bureau has offered a $50,000 reward for returning the victims and apprehending the kidnappers.

Zalandria Brown, of Florence, South Carolina, said she contacted the FBI and local officials after learning her younger brother, Zindell Brown, was one of the four victims.

“It’s like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” she said in a phone interview. “To see a family member being thrown into the back of a truck and being dragged along is just incredible.”

Zalandria Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, and two friends accompanied a third friend who was going to Mexico for a tummy tuck. A doctor promoting such surgeries in Matamoros did not return calls for comment.

Brown said the group is very close and they all made the trip part-time to share driving duties. They are aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother has expressed concerns.

“Zindell kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t go under,'” Brown said.

A video posted to social media on Friday showed men with assault rifles and tan body armor loading the four people into the back of a white pickup truck in broad daylight. One was alive and sitting up, but the others appeared to be either dead or wounded. At least one person appeared to lift their head off the sidewalk 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, who often fight among themselves. Thousands of Mexicans have disappeared amid the violence in Tamaulipas state alone.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that “there was a confrontation between groups and they were arrested,” without giving details. He originally said the four Americans 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 where the kidnapping took place.

A motorist 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 minivan was hit by another vehicle near an intersection, then shots rang out, the woman said. Another SUV rolled up and several armed men got out.

“Suddenly [the gunmen] were ahead of us,” she said. “I went into shock, nobody honked, nobody moved. Everyone must have thought the same thing: ‘If we move, they will see us or they might shoot us.’”

She said the gunmen forced a woman, who could walk, into the back of a pickup truck. Another person was carried to the truck but was able to move his head.

“The other two dragged her across the sidewalk, we don’t know if they were alive or dead,” she said.

Minutes later, Mexican authorities arrived.

Zindell Brown’s family asked people to share any relevant information with local authorities. O’dell William Brown, his father, said the family is still looking for answers.

“I don’t know which way to go right now,” he said. “We don’t know what’s what.”

The shootings in Matamoros were so bad on Friday that the US consulate warned of the danger and local authorities warned people to take shelter on the spot. It was not immediately clear how the kidnappings could be related to this violence.

US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Monday the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and an “innocent” Mexican national died in the attack. He said various US law enforcement agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing persons.

The authorities did not provide any further information about the victims.

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.

Victims of violence in Matamoros and other major Tamaulipas border towns often go uncounted because the cartels have a history of taking their own bodies. Local media often avoid reporting such incidents for security reasons, creating an information vacuum.

The State Department warns US citizens against traveling to Tamaulipas. However, US citizens residing in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas often cross the border to visit family, attend a doctor’s appointment, or shop. It is also a border crossing point for people traveling deeper into Mexico.

As the headquarters of the Gulf Cartel, Matamoros was once relatively quiet. For years, a night on the town was part of the “two-nation vacation” for spring breakers who flocked to South Padre Island in Texas.

But rising antitrust violence over the past 10 to 15 years has deterred much of that business. Sometimes US citizens are drawn into the fighting.

Three US siblings disappeared while visiting their father near Matamoros in October 2014 and were later found shot and burned. Her parents said they were abducted by men in police gear who identified themselves as “Hercules,” a tactical security unit in the city.


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