CIUDAD VICTORIA, MEXICO (AP) – Four Americans who traveled to Mexico last week to seek health care got caught in a deadly shootout and were kidnapped by heavily armed men who threw them in the back of a pickup truck, officials from both countries said on Monday.
The four were travelling on Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina licence 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 on 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 USD50,000 reward for the victims’ return and the arrest of the kidnappers.
A video posted to social media on Friday showed men with assault rifles and tan body armour 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.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday that “there was a confrontation between groups, and they were detained”. without offering details. He originally said the four Americans came to Mexico to buy medications.
A woman driving in Matamoros who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal said she witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and abduction.
The white minivan was hit by another vehicle near an intersection, then gunfire rang out, the woman said. Another 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. 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.