2 dead; 1 injured; 1 unscathed
Two of the four Americans missing since their brazen and violent abduction last week after crossing the border into northern Mexico have been found dead and two others are alive, Mexican officials said Tuesday.
One of the surviving US citizens was found injured and the other unharmed, Tamaulipas Governor Américo Villarreal said.
Mexican officials said the Americans went missing on Friday after being caught in the crossfire of rival cartel groups in the border town of Matamoros in Tamaulipas state, just below Brownsville, Texas.
The group of unidentified men unleashed a barrage of bullets on Americans after crossing the border in a white van, the FBI reported.
A Mexican citizen was also killed during the melee, U.S. and Mexican officials confirmed Monday.
At a Tuesday morning news conference held by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Villarreal confirmed the deaths by phone, saying details of the four missing Americans had been confirmed by prosecutors.
The governor did not share any additional details about where or how they were found.
Here’s what we know so far about the abduction.
How was the kidnapping?
Americans met crossfire from rival cartel groups shortly after crossing the border in the van with North Carolina license plates, according to Mexican officials and Special Agent Oliver Rich, who is in charge of the San Antonio division of the FBI.
Shortly after, unidentified gunmen fired on the passengers in the vehicle, and the four Americans were placed in a van and taken away from the scene by the men.
A woman driving in Matamoros who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals told The Associated Press that she witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and kidnapping: the white van was hit by another vehicle near an intersection, then shots rang out, said the woman. Another SUV arrived and several armed men got out.
“All of a sudden (the gunmen) were in front of us,” she said. “I went into a state of shock, no one honked, no one moved. Everyone must have been thinking the same thing, ‘If we move, they’ll see us, or they might shoot us.’
Who are the Americans kidnapped in Mexico? What you need to know about the victims
Law enforcement did not release the identities of the American victims, but Zalandria Brown of Florence, South Carolina, said she was in contact with the FBI and local officials after learning that 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 with The Associated Press. “To see your family member thrown into the back of a truck and dragged around is just amazing.”
Tamaulipas Chief Prosecutor Irving Barrios said a Mexican woman died Friday in the attack, but it was unclear whether she was linked to the kidnapping.
Why were the victims in Mexico?
Zalandria Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, and two friends accompanied a third friend who was traveling to Mexico for a tummy tuck. A doctor who advertises such surgeries in Matamoros did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Brown said the group was extremely close and they all made the trip in part to help distribute driving duties. They were aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother had expressed some apprehension.
“Zindell kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t go down,'” Brown said.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the four Americans were in the country for medical treatment.
A TREK FOR HEALTH CARE:4 kidnapped Americans entered Mexico to buy medicine, Mexican president says
The video appears to show an attack
Video posted to social media on Friday showed men with assault rifles and beige body armor loading the four people into the bed of a white van in broad daylight.
One was alive and seated, but the others appeared dead or injured. At least one person appeared to lift their head from the curb before being dragged to the truck.
How are the American and Mexican authorities reacting?
US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said various US justice agencies have worked with their Mexican law enforcement counterparts to recover missing victims.
On Monday, soldiers from the Mexican Army gathered in Matamoros and began a search mission for the Americans.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was aware of the situation and was “closely following the assault and kidnapping.”
She says The US Department of Homeland Security is also coordinating with Mexican authorities to “bring those responsible to justice”.
Jean-Pierre declined to answer further questions, citing confidentiality concerns.
The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of missing US citizens and the arrest of those responsible for the incident.
Matamoros, Tamaulipas under US travel advisories
The US State Department has released a Notice of ‘Level 4: Do Not Travel’ for US citizens in Tamaulipas, citing crimes and kidnappings there.
The alert level is the same 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 the powerful Gulf drug cartel who often fight each other.
Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans disappeared in the state of Tamaulipas alone.
Contributor: Associated Press.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.