Los Angeles Times

Gunmen kidnap 4 U.S. citizens in Mexico

The Americans had crossed the border from Texas to buy medicine, say officials in both countries.


MEXICO CITY — Gunmen kidnapped four U.S. citizens who crossed into Mexico from Texas last week to buy medicine and were caught in a shootout that killed at least one Mexican citizen, U.S. and Mexican officials said Monday.

The four were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. They came under fire on Friday shortly after entering the city of Matamoros from Brownsvill­e, 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 taken from the scene by armed men,” the FBI said. The bureau is offering a $50,000 reward for the victims’ return and the arrest of the kidnappers.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the four were going to buy medicine and “there was a confrontat­ion between groups, and they were detained,” without offering details.

A woman driving in Matamoros witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and abduction in broad daylight. She asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

The scene illustrate­s the terror that has prevailed for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of the Gulf cartel that often fight among themselves. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeare­d just in Tamaulipas state, where Matamoros is located.

The woman said she saw the white minivan be hit by another vehicle near an intersecti­on, then gunfire rang out.

An SUV rolled up and several armed men hopped out.

“All of a sudden they [the gunmen] were in front of us,” she said. “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.’ ”

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

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

Mexican authoritie­s arrived minutes later.

A video posted to social media Friday shows men with assault rifles and tan body armor loading four people into the back of a 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 his head from the pavement before being dragged to the truck.

Shootouts in Matamoros were so bad on Friday that the U.S. Consulate issued an alert about the danger. Local authoritie­s warned people to shelter in place. It was not immediatel­y clear how the abductions may have been connected to that violence.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Monday that the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and that an innocent Mexican citizen died in the attack. He said various U.S. justice agencies were working with their Mexican counterpar­ts to recover the missing U.S. citizens.

Authoritie­s have provided no other details about who the victims are or where they are from.

President Biden had been informed of the situation, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.

Tamaulipas’ chief prosecutor, Irving Barrios, told reporters that a Mexican woman died in Friday’s shootings. He gave no details about her death and did not specify whether she was killed in the same gunfight where the kidnapping took place.

Tamaulipas state police said on social media there were “two armed incidents between unidentifi­ed civilians” on Friday.

Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas often go uncounted, because the cartels have a history of taking bodies of their own group with them. Local media often avoid reporting on such incidents out of safety concerns, creating an informatio­n vacuum.

Photograph­s from the scene viewed by the Associated Press show a white minivan with the driver’s side window shot out and all of the doors open sitting on the side of the road after apparently colliding with a red SUV.

The State Department’s travel warning for Tamaulipas warns U.S. citizens not to travel there. However, with it being a border city, U.S. citizens who live in Brownsvill­e or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross to visit family, attend medical appointmen­ts or shop. It would also be a crossing point for people traveling deeper into Mexico.

As the headquarte­rs of the powerful Gulf cartel, Matamoros was once relatively calm. For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the “two-nation vacation” for spring breakers flocking to Texas’ South Padre Island.

But increased cartel violence over the last 10 to 15 years frightened away much of that business. Sometimes U.S. citizens are swept up in the violence.

Three U.S. siblings disappeare­d near Matamoros in October 2014 and were later found shot to death and burned. They had disappeare­d two weeks earlier while visiting their father in Mexico. Their parents said they had been abducted by men dressed in police gear identifyin­g themselves as “Hercules,” a tactical security unit in the violent border city.

 ?? Associated Press ?? A MEMBER OF the Mexican security forces stands near a white minivan with North Carolina license plates and several bullet holes, at the spot in Matamoros where gunmen kidnapped four U.S. citizens on Friday.
Associated Press A MEMBER OF the Mexican security forces stands near a white minivan with North Carolina license plates and several bullet holes, at the spot in Matamoros where gunmen kidnapped four U.S. citizens on Friday.

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