CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — Two Americans whose abduction in Mexico was captured in a video that showed them caught in a cartel shootout have been found dead, officials said Tuesday. Two others who were kidnapped with them were found alive, with one wounded.
Tamaulipas Gov. Américo Villarreal did not provide details on the extent of the wounded person’s injuries.
The surviving Americans were taken to the border near Brownsville, Texas, in a convoy of Mexican ambulances and SUVs, as seen by an Associated Press journalist Tuesday morning. It was not immediately clear if the bodies of the deceased were also being returned to the U.S.
The vehicles sped down a long dirt road escorted by Mexican military Humvees, armoured vehicles, state police and National Guard in trucks with mounted .50-caliber machine guns.
The FBI had said Sunday it was searching with Mexican authorities for the missing U.S. citizens. A relative of one of them said Monday that the group had travelled together from South Carolina so one of them could get a tummy tuck from a doctor in the border city of Matamoros, where Friday’s kidnapping took place.
Shortly after entering Mexico, they were caught amid fighting between rival cartel groups in the city. A video showed them being loaded into the back of a pickup truck by gunmen.
Officials said a Mexican woman also died in Friday’s crossfire.
The U.S. citizens were found in a rural area east of Matamoros called Ejido Longoreño on the way to an area on the Gulf coast known as “Bagdad Beach,” according to a state authority who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case. Word of their location came to authorities before dawn Tuesday.
Villarreal confirmed the deaths by phone during a morning news conference by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saying details about the four abducted Americans had been confirmed by prosecutors.
López Obrador said one suspect was in custody.
“Those responsible will be found and they are going to be punished,” he said, referencing arrests made in the 2019 killings of nine U.S.-Mexican dual citizens in Sonora near the U.S. border.
Mexico’s president complained about the U.S. media’s coverage of the missing Americans, accusing them of sensationalism. “It’s not like that when they kill Mexicans in the United States, they go quiet like mummies.”
“It’s very unfortunate, they (the U.S. government) has the right to protest like they have,” he said. “We really regret that this happens in our country.”
The abduction 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.
Video and photographs taken during and immediately after the abduction Friday show the Americans’ white minivan sitting beside another vehicle that a witness said had collided with it. Almost immediately, several gunmen in tactical vests and toting assault rifles arrived in another vehicle to surround the scene.
They walked one of the Americans to a white pickup and dragged and loaded the three others while terrified drivers sat silently in their cars, hoping not to draw their attention. Two of the victims appeared to be motionless.
The FBI had offered a $50,000 reward for the victims’ return and the arrest of the kidnappers.