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Update: Mexican cartel handed 5 men over for kidnapping, murder of U.S. travelers

A faction of the drug cartel supposedly takes the blame for the kidnapping of 4 people, and 3 murders

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Mexican army soldiers prepare a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen at Matamoros, Mexico.

Mexican soldiers prepare a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen at Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, March 6, 2023. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the four Americans were caught in the crossfire between two armed groups after they had entered Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, on Friday.

Associated Press

On March 3, four U.S. citizens were crossing the border from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico, accompanying a friend for cosmetic surgery. Soon after crossing the border, their rental car was caught in a shootout between cartel members and crashed.

Latavia Washington McGee, 35, and her close friends Shaeed Woodard, 33, Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams, 38, were kidnapped.

This is a continuing story, where updates will be posted as information develops.

Mexican cartel handed 5 men over for kidnapping, murder of U.S. travelers

Friday, March 10

A signed letter of confession, along with five men, was turned over to law enforcement on Thursday, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of the four Americans in Mexico and the death of a Mexican woman.

The five men were bound and gagged — and four were shirtless — in front of a pickup truck with the note left on the windshield, as shown in a photo obtained by USA Today.

The letter claimed to be from the Scorpion faction of the Gulf drug cartel, reported The Associated Press. It reads that those who had kidnapped and killed were guilty of a “lack of discipline” and had disobeyed the cartel’s rules, which include “respecting the life and well-being of the innocent.”

“We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making,” said the letter.

It’s hard to confirm whether the letter was sincere and whether it was really from the Scorpion faction, said Cecilia Farfán Méndez, a Mexico security researcher at the University of California, San Diego, per The New York Times. Since the cartel has much money to lose when the city is on lockdown with a big media presence, the letter could be an effort to diffuse the situation.

Currently, no official statement has been made by the Mexican government regarding the letter.

Who is Arely Pablo?

Arely Pablo, 33, was a Mexican woman who was shot and killed at the initial shootout when the U.S. citizens were kidnapped, reported El Universario, a local news station.

While getting off the bus, she was hit by a stray bullet.

Pablo worked at a local copy and print shop and was an avid churchgoer, said the station. Her friends remember her as “hardworking” and a “person without equal.”


Remains of 2 victims identified in Mexico kidnapping to be brought to the U.S. for autopsy

Thursday, March 9

On Thursday, it was reported by CNN that Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard were the two members of the group who were killed. Their remains are to be brought back to the United States for second autopsies.

The other two members of the group, Latavia Washington McGee and Eric James Williams were found alive on Tuesday, in what was described by the New York Post as a small, dirty shack in a rural part of Matamoros. The kidnapping took place a week ago on Friday.

Williams was transported to Brownsville, Texas — just across the border — and underwent surgery on his legs, where he’d been shot three times, his wife told CNN.

Washington McGee, who was also transported to the hospital, was without any physical injuries, Mexican officials said, per CNN. But her mother, Barbara Burgess, said that the wounds probably lie beneath the surface.

“She watched them die,” Burgess said, as she recounted what Washington McGee told her to CNN. “They were driving through and a van came up and hit them, and that’s when they started shooting at the car, shooting inside the van. ... She said the others tried to run and they got shot at the same time.”

“She watched them die,” Burgess said, as she recounted what Washington McGee told her to CNN. “They were driving through and a van came up and hit them, and that’s when they started shooting at the car, shooting inside the van. ... She said the others tried to run and they got shot at the same time.”

The two survivors were transported over the border with heavy protections in place and a military escort, per The Associated Press.

There is speculation that the group was misidentified as Haitian drug smugglers, reported CNN. But Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, disputed the claims in a press conference Wednesday.

Only one arrest has been made in connection to the kidnapping, per the New York Post. A man named Jose Guadalupe N. was allegedly standing guard outside the shack where the four were held and tortured — although it isn’t confirmed if he is an active member of the Gulf cartel in the area.


Kidnapping victims have been found

Wednesday, March 8

Four Americans kidnapped on March 3 after crossing the border into Mexico have been located. Two were found dead and two were found alive, said the governor of the area, Américo Villarreal Anaya, in a call on Tuesday, per CNN.

As reported by the Deseret News previously, the group of Americans that traveled to Mexico in a white van included 33-year-old Latavia Washington McGee, Zindell Brown, Eric James Williams and Shaeed Woodard.

“Derived from the joint search actions, the four American citizens deprived of their liberty last Friday were found,” Villarreal tweeted, per CNN. “Unfortunately, two dead. Investigation and intelligence work continue to capture those responsible. Details will be given later.”

It has not been announced which of the victims are alive and which are dead, but one was killed at the initial confrontation, said one Mexican official, per The New York Times.

The two who are alive are in a safe location and being attended to by medical personnel, reported The New York Times, but the extent of any injuries is unknown at this time.

This story will be updated as new information becomes available.