The Mercury News Weekend

5 men found with note saying they attacked Americans

- By Natalie Kitroeff and Maria Abi-Habib

>> Five men, lying facedown with their hands tied, were found by Mexican authoritie­s Thursday along with a letter purportedl­y written by a powerful criminal cartel, blaming the men for a recent attack on four Americans, according to two people familiar with the investigat­ion.

The note apologized for the assault, which left two Americans and one Mexican dead, and claimed that the cartel was offering up the men who had carried it out, according to photos reviewed by The New York Times. The people who described the discovery were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

“We have decided to hand over those involved and directly responsibl­e for the events, who at all times acted of their own volition,” the letter said. The five men were found, alive, along with the note, in Matamoros, Mexico, the border city on the Rio Grande where the Americans were attacked.

It was not clear whether the message was accurate or actually written by the cartel. Mexican authoritie­s will question the five men, officials said, to try to determine whether they actually participat­ed in the abduction and killings.

In Mexico, messages have often appeared near bodies left in public places claiming to be from cartels taking responsibi­lity for crimes, and issuing warnings to rivals, law enforcemen­t or the general public. But the notes aren't always to be trusted.

Sometimes one criminal group is trying to blame horrific violence on its rivals, and sometimes the messages portray innocent victims as cartel members, security experts said.

“There are certainly questions around the veracity of these messages,” said Cecilia Farfan Mendez, a Mexico security researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

The four Americans, Latavia Washington McGee, 33; Shaeed Woodard, 33; Zindell Brown, 28; and Eric James Williams, 38, were abducted last Friday after armed men shot at their car at an intersecti­on in Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state. They had gone to Mexico to accompany McGee, who was scheduled for cosmetic surgery that day, family members said.

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