The brutal kidnapping of four Americans in Mexico last week has led to renewed media attention to cartel violence and the dangers of traveling south of the border.
The brutal kidnapping of four Americans in Mexico last week has led to renewed media attention to cartel violence and the dangers of traveling south of the border. Two Americans were recovered alive on Tuesday while two were found dead.
- Four friends from South Carolina – LaTavia Washington McGee, Eric James Williams, Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard – were driving through the border city of Matamoros when gunmen opened fire on their minivan. Woodard and Brown were killed, and Williams was wounded.
- Video footage showed the four being loaded into a pickup truck by armed cartel members. Cartel members appeared to drag some members of the party who were unconscious or dead into the truck. A 33-year-old Mexican woman believed to be an innocent bystander was also killed.
- A fifth friend, Cheryl Orange, did not cross the border with the others and stayed behind in a motel in Brownsville, Texas. After not hearing from her friends for hours, Orange notified authorities, although it’s unclear how the FBI was first informed of the kidnappings.
- The Americans had reportedly traveled to Mexico for cosmetic surgery. One member of the group was reportedly scheduled to have a tummy tuck at a town near the border. More than a million Americans per year travel to Mexico for cheaper elective medical procedures.
- Mexican authorities found the kidnapped Americans Tuesday in a wooden shack under guard in a rural area east of Matamoros after the cartel moved them around for four days to “create confusion,” according to Tamaulipas Governor Américo Villarreal.
- The survivors were flown back to the United States on Tuesday and are receiving medical care in south Texas. The four friends are natives of Lake City, South Carolina. Lake City Mayor Yamekia Robinson offered condolences to the victims and urged her community to stay “close with prayer” as Lake City “is very closely knitted, so when one hurts we all hurt.”
- The Mexican government has not commented on the motive for the attack, although the Tamaulipas attorney general’s office reportedly believes the theory this was a case of mistaken identity is “strengthening.” The cartels may have confused the foursome for a rival drug gang, Haitian drug dealers or people smugglers. The investigation is ongoing.
- NBC News reported on the dangers of Americans seeking cheap cosmetic surgery in Mexico. An estimated 1.2 million Americans sought elective medical treatment in Mexico in 2019, and the risks aren’t limited to the operating table. The State Department warns Americans to beware of kidnappings for ransom and violence and criminals who target passengers in cars.
- The swift response from the Mexican government to the kidnappings – in just four days, the victims were recovered, and a suspect was arrested – has been met with outrage by many Mexicans, per the New York Times. More than 100,000 Mexicans remain missing after years of cartel violence and government inaction in a country where most crimes are never solved. Mexican citizens are reportedly wondering – with some justification – “Why doesn’t our government work this hard when Mexican citizens disappear?”
- According to CNN, the bodies of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown will be repatriated to the United States on Thursday after Mexican authorities completed a forensic examination which concluded on Wednesday. Barbara McLeod Burgess, the mother of LaTavia Washington McGee, told CNN that a van came up and hit their car and started shooting. Brown and Woodard were reportedly shot and Williams was wounded attempting to flee the initial attack.
- In an op-ed in USA Today, Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) called on Congress to pass legislation declaring war on the Mexican drug cartels and authorizing the use of military force in Mexico to stamp out the cartels. Crenshaw argues this is necessary to stop the tens of thousands of annual fentanyl deaths caused by the cartels.
- Fox News reported the State Department renewed its “do not travel” warning for several areas in Mexico after the kidnappings. The renewal comes just as the college spring break season gets underway. A Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory has been issued for six Mexican states: Guerrero, Zacatecas, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan, and border state Tamaulipas, the site of the kidnappings.
- Matamoros is a notoriously violent border city and the birthplace of the Gulf Cartel, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The city of 500,000 is controlled by the remnants of the Gulf Cartel and is the site of frequent clashes with other factions of the former Gulf Cartel.
© Dominic Moore, 2023