Four Americans were kidnapped last week by heavily armed men who threw them in the back of a pickup truck, confirmed officials from both countries Monday. The four individuals traveled to Mexico to seek health care.
The Americans were traveling in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates and came under fire almost immediately after entering the Mexican city of Matamoros, from Brownsville at the southeastern tip of Texas near the Gulf Coast, confirmed the FBI in a Sunday statement.
A video posted on social media on Friday showed men brandishing assault rifles and body armor and loading four people into the truck bed in broad daylight. One of the individuals appeared alive and was sitting up, while the other three were either wounded or dead. At least one individual appeared to lift his head from the pavement before he was then dragged into the truck.
The incident illustrates the terror that has terrorized Matamoros, a city that is controlled by factions of the dominant Gulf drug cartel who often clash among themselves. Thousands of Mexicans have disappeared in Tamaulipas state alone, amid the violence.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, president of Mexico, said Monday “there was a confrontation between groups, and they were detained.” Lopez Obrador originally said the four Americans had come to Mexico to buy medication.
Irving Barrios, Tamaulipas’ chief prosecutor, told reporters that a Mexican woman was killed in Friday’s shootings, but did not specify whether she was killed in the same streetfighting incident where the kidnapping took place.
The white minivan was hit by a vehicle at an intersection and then gunfire rang out. Another SUV drove up to the accident and several armed men jumped out.
“All of a sudden they (the gunmen) were in front of us,” said a female witness. “I entered a state of shock, nobody honked their horn, nobody moved. Everybody must have been thinking the same thing, ‘If we move they will see us, or they might shoot us.’”
The woman said the gunmen forced a woman, who could walk, into the back of the pickup and then carried another person to the truck who was able to move his head. “The other two they dragged across the pavement, we don’t know if they were alive or dead,” she said.
Authorities arrived a few minutes later.
Shootouts increased in Matamoros Friday; U.S. Consulate issued alert
On Friday, shootouts in Matamoros became so bad that local authorities warned people to shelter in place and the U.S. Consulate issued an alert about the danger. It remains unclear how the abductions may be connected to the violence.
Ken Salazar, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, said in a statement Monday an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack and the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint. He also said several U.S. justice agencies were working along with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing Americans.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Monday that President Joe Biden had been informed of the situation. Jean-Pierre declined answering further questions from reporters, citing privacy concerns.
The State Department warns American citizens not to travel to Tamaulipas. However, Brownsville is a crossing point for individuals traveling deeper into Mexico. However, U.S. citizens who live in Brownsville or in other locations in Texas cross the border frequently to attend medical appointments, shop or visit family.
Increased cartel violence over the past 10 to 15 years scared away much U.S. business. Three American siblings vanished near Matamoros in October 2014 while visiting their father. Their bodies were later found shot to death and burned. The childrens’ parents said they had been kidnapped by men dressed in police gear and calling themselves “Hercules,” which is a tactical security unit in the city.