Mexican authorities have found the four US citizens who went missing on Friday in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Two are dead, another one is badly injured and a fourth is reported to be in good condition. The governor of Tamaulipas, Américo Villarreal, broke the news via phone call at the morning press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, reported that one person has been arrested in connection with the kidnappings.
Almost two hours into the president’s morning press conference, a journalist asked him about the case of the missing Americans, which was threatening to unleash a major diplomatic conflict with the United States. On Monday the White House had alluded to the matter and described it as unacceptable. Moreover, on Sunday, the FBI had offered a reward for clues that could lead to the whereabouts of the four US citizens.
When asked about the status of the search, the Mexican president consulted with Rodríguez, who had just received a call from Governor Villarreal, informing her of the discovery. Rodríguez passed the phone over to López Obrador, who put it on speakerphone: “About an hour ago we were notified that there were indications that [four US citizens] had been spotted. And 35 minutes ago it was confirmed by the Prosecutor’s Office,” Villarreal said.
According to the Attorney General of Tamaulipas, the two survivors have been handed over to the FBI at the international bridge that connects Matamoros with Brownsville, Texas. A source close to the agency confirmed that the two survivors are a woman, Latavia McGee, and a man, Eric James Willliams. Once they were back on US soil, the survivors were transported to a hospital in Texas, according to the Associated Press. The families of the two deceased Americans will have to wait for the repatriation of their bodies.
The four Americans - three men and one woman - had traveled to Mexico from South Carolina, according to media reports. As reported by CNN, the woman, Latavia McGee, 33, had a doctor’s appointment in Matamoros on Friday to undergo cosmetic surgery on her abdomen. In Mexico, such operations are cheaper than north of the border. The other three, Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams, were friends accompanying her.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Advisor, said in a call with journalists Tuesday morning that any attack on US citizens is “unacceptable.” He expressed his “deepest condolences” to the families and said that now the efforts of the US authorities, who are in “permanent contact with the Mexican authorities”, are focused on the “safe repatriation” of the two bodies, and on the “health of the [two] survivors”. Kirby did not give further details about the deceased, because Washington’s desire, he added, is to “respect the safety and privacy” of the families. He also promised that the Justice Department would expand on the information later in the day.
The State Department has updated its warning to travelers to Tamaulipas, classifying it as a Level 4 location – the highest travel advisory designation – and urges fellow citizens to avoid the region. “Heavily armed members of criminal groups often patrol areas of the state and operate with impunity particularly along the border region from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo. In these areas, local law enforcement has limited capacity to respond to incidents of crime,” the US government website warns.
Since Friday, videos of the kidnapping began circulating on social media. After shooting at the van in which the four friends were traveling, the attackers grabbed the bodies, some unconscious, and threw them in the bed of a pickup truck. The images shared online showed the woman, who was conscious, being pushed into the criminals’ vehicle. Two days later, on Sunday, the FBI confirmed that they were US citizens.
So far, in addition to two of the four Americans, a Mexican woman also died as a result of the shootings on Friday. Media outlets, citing former US law enforcement officials, reported this week that the criminals behind the attack and kidnapping are allegedly part of the Escorpión group, a faction of the Gulf Cartel. Mexican authorities have not provided any information on this matter. The city where the incident took place, Matamoros, is known as the cradle of the Gulf Cartel.
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