Authorities search for 4 kidnapped Americans
Group went to Mexico for tummy tuck, were caught in drug-related shootout
Ciudad Victoria, Mexico — Four Americans who traveled to Mexico last week to seek health care got caught in a deadly drug-related shootout and were kidnapped by heavily armed men who threw them in the back of a pickup truck, officials from both countries said Monday.
The four were traveling Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. They came under fire shortly after entering the city of Matamoros from Brownsville, at 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.
Zalandria Brown of Florence, S.C., said she has been in contact with the FBI and local officials after learning that her younger brother, Zindell Brown, is one of the four victims.
“This is like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” she said in a phone interview. “To see a member of your family thrown in the back of a truck and dragged, it is just unbelievable.”
Zalandria Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, and two friends had accompanied a third friend who was going to Mexico for a tummy tuck surgery. A doctor who advertises such surgeries in Matamoros did not answer calls seeking comment.
Brown said the group was extremely close and they all made the trip in part to help split up the driving duties. They were aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother had expressed some misgivings.
“Zindell kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t go down,’” Brown said.
A video posted to social media Friday showed men with assault rifles and tan body armor loading the four people into the bed of a white pickup in broad daylight. One was alive and sitting up, but the others seemed either dead or wounded. At least one person appeared to lift his head from the pavement before being dragged to the truck.
The scene illustrates the terror that has prevailed for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of the powerful Gulf drug cartel who often fight among themselves. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared in Tamaulipas state alone.