Authorities in Mexico arrested five more people Friday in connection with the kidnapping of four Americans in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, two of whom were killed. The bodies of the two victims who were found dead have been returned to the U.S. for forensic examination, while the two survivors returned to the U.S. to receive medical treatment.
One person had already been arrested on Tuesday, Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica said.
“The Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office (#FGJT) performed an arrest warrant against 5 people linked to the events of March 3 in Matamoros, for the crimes of aggravated kidnapping and intentional simple homicide. One more person who was arrested in recent days, was linked to the process,” Mojica said.
Here’s what to know about the abductions, the victims identities, and the arrests.
What we know about their identities
The individuals were previously identified by a family member as a group of close friends who were driving from South Carolina and crossed the border from Brownsville, TX on March 3 so that one of them, Latavia “Tay” Washington McGee, a 33-year-old mother of six, could undergo a tummy tuck procedure in the Mexican state.
McGee was accompanied by Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown, and Eric James Williams but they never arrived for the Friday appointment. The FBI reported that the group went missing shortly after crossing the border.
The survivors, Williams and McGee returned to the U.S. Tuesday, transported through the Port of Entry in Brownsville, Texas.
Williams’ wife, Michelle Williams, organized a GoFundMe for her husband and said that he has had multiple surgeries to treat the three gunshot wounds in his legs.
The bodies of Woodard and Brown were also sent to the U.S. on Tuesday, Mexican officials said.
McGee had previously gone to Mexico for a medical procedure two to three years ago, Burgess told CNN. Mexico has become an increasingly popular destination for medical tourism.
How were they kidnapped?
The group of friends had journeyed from South Carolina, crossing the border into Mexico from Brownsville, TX, in a white minivan. After crossing the border, they were attacked in the border city of Matamoros.
According to the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Mexico, the attackers then moved the passengers to another vehicle and drove away from the scene.
A Twitter post on Friday appears to show the kidnapping, CBS reported on Monday. The video has not been officially verified.
Just the usual dragging of bodies after a cartel shootout in broad daylight, today in Matamoros.#Mexico #Narcostate #FailedState pic.twitter.com/bfWwNgjBcB
— David Wolf (@DavidWolf777) March 4, 2023
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador initially said Monday that the four Americans intended to buy medicine and got caught up in crossfire between armed groups.
The U.S. State Department has a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning for the Tamaulipas region because of high crime there.
“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” according to U.S. State Department guidance.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros issued a warning to its employees on Friday following the kidnappings.
Six arrests have been made so far by Mexican authorities, one on Tuesday and five on Friday, according to Barrios Mojica. The group of five was arrested for aggravated kidnapping and simple intentional homicide, while the other person was linked to the crime , the attorney general tweeted.
The group believed to be behind the abductions, the Scorpion faction of the Gulf cartel, issued an apology letter condemning the violence, and claimed to turn in five people allegedly responsible for the crimes, the Associated Press reports, citing an anonymous official close to the case. Authorities doubt the letter’s sincerity, speculating that such statements—which are not uncommon—are good for business and help the cartel maintain a stronger public image.
“We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline,” the letter said.
Law enforcement has not confirmed if the five arrests made Friday were linked to the cartel members that were reportedly handed over this week. The investigation is ongoing, as authorities from both sides of the border work to understand the complex factors of the case.
How have U.S. and Mexican officials reacted?
The FBI, along with federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies, have said they are investigating the matter. The FBI had offered a $50,000 reward for the four’s return and the arrest of those involved.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said Monday that the kidnappings also resulted in the killing of an “innocent Mexican citizen.” Salazar did not offer further details.
Investigators believe the four were mistaken for Haitian drug smugglers by a Mexican cartel, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation told CNN.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said on Tuesday, “We offer our deepest condolences to the friends and families of those who were killed in these attacks.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday that the Department of Justice will do “everything in our power” to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“We continue to work every day towards peace and are very sorry that this has happened in our country,” he said. “We send our condolences to the victims’ friends and family and the American people.”
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