Borderland Beat Contributors
The FBI announced that a minivan carrying U.S. citizens was shot at shortly after crossing from Texas into the Mexico border city of Matamoros. The US has identified the four Americans.
News organizations are now confirming that this incident is the same attack in which cartel members can be seen carrying off bodies on video.
Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, is home to over 580,000 people. It is the second largest city in Tamaulipas (behind Reynosa). Tamaulipas is one of the six Mexican states that the US Department of State advises US citizens to avoid traveling to, citing risks of crime and kidnappings.
“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” the State Department says.
Although Tamaulipas is among the most dangerous states in Mexico, The Washington Post stated that security in Matamoros had improved in recent years. There had been fewer high-profile incidents like the one that occurred on Friday. Many US citizens who live in Brownsville travel to Matamoros to buy medicine or for lunch. In January, the Texas Monthly published a list of the city’s best taquerias.
This is not the first time that US citizens have been kidnapped and/or killed in Matamoros. In October 2014, Borderland Beat reported that three US citizens went missing for two weeks when they traveled to Matamoros to visit their father. They were later found shot and burned to death.
Details of The March 3 Attack
A shooting and vehicle crash occurred on March 3, 2023, in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Various images and videos alleged to depict the attack were shared on social media.
Initial reports from El Universal and Heraldo de México allege that state police officers engaged in a shooting with armed men. A Mexican woman who was reportedly struck by a stray bullet, which caused her to fall to the ground and bleed to death. Images of her lying on the sidewalk were shared on social media platforms like Twitter.
After the initial shooting, the armed men allegedly sped away but state police officers pursued them, leading to a second “intense shooting”. Videos of this can be seen below.
At some point, a white minivan crashed into a red SUV. Initial reports from El Universal alleged that the armed men were driving the white minivan however later video appears to show the people in the white minivan were not armed, although they may have been disarmed at a previous point.
Of note, the vehicle crash site is roughly 5 mins away from the US Consulate. An image of some of the white minivan’s passengers can be seen below.
A video posted on social media appears to show armed men loading three unresponsive (possibly deceased) males and one injured female into the bed of their white pickup truck. This video can be seen below.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, cartel members have a history of taking corpses of their deceased hitmen from crime scenes in Matamoros (and elsewhere in Mexico). This practice often extends to taking the bodies of their victims as well. Local media often avoid reporting about these incidents in order to avoid cartel retribution, creating an information vacuum.
Tamaulipas state police later released a statement which goes as follows: “During the last hour two armed incidents have occurred between unidentified civilians, lamenting loss of life and injuries.”
License Plate Comparison
Officials have not released the identities of the US citizens but they have stated that the victim’s white minivan had North Carolina license plates.
US Embassy Press Release
On March 5, 2023, the US embassy put out the following press release, saying:
The FBI is seeking the public’s help to identify the person(s) responsible for the assault and kidnapping of four American citizens, on March 3, 2023 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
The FBI, its federal partners, and Mexican law enforcement authorities are investigating the case. The FBI announced that it is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the capture of those involved.
On March 3, 2023, four United States citizens crossed into Matamoros, Tamaulipas in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. Shortly after crossing into Mexico, unidentified gunmen shot the passengers of the vehicle. The gunmen herded the four US citizens into another vehicle and fled the scene with them.
The public is urged to call the San Antonio Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at 210-225-6741 with any information. Information can also be provided online at https://tips.fbi.gov. Persons providing information may remain anonymous.
On March 5, 2023, news organization CNN confirmed that this March 3rd incident is the same one being described by the FBI as a kidnapping of American citizens.
The President of Mexico’s Statement
As reported by El Occidental, President Andres Lopez Obrador (often shortened to AMLO) spoke about the shooting and the Americans involved, saying “[According to] the information we have, they [the Americans] crossed the border to buy medicines in Mexico, there was a confrontation between groups and they were detenidos [detained, can also mean captured].”
“This matter is already being investigated … I think it will be resolved,” AMLO said.
It’s important to note his allegation that some were detenidos. This may at first seem to imply that Mexican authorities have people in custody, however it can also mean that people were captured, as in, the Americans were captured by the armed men.
The direct quote from the president’s official press conference transcript has the word detenidos, however the publication Proceso quoted the president as saying retenidos, which more clearly implies an abduction. The publication may have been clarifying his statement after consulting presidential staff.
The White House Statement
During a morning press conference, when asked about the kidnapping of four US citizens in Mexico, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre read a pre-written statement, which read:
“We are closely following the assault and kidnapping of 4 U.S citizens in Matamoros, Mexico. These types of attacks are unacceptable. Our thoughts are with the families of these individuals and we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. U.S. law enforcement is in touch with Mexican law enforcement. The Departments of State and Homeland Security are also coordinating with Mexican authorities. And we will continue to coordinate with Mexico to push to bring those responsible to justice and again, our hearts are with the families.”
“Don’t have anything to share outside of what I just laid out, clearly we want to be very careful here as there are privacy concerns…I don’t want to share too much information on how we are moving forward or even the individuals, we just want to be really mindful of that. But clearly, we are on top of this.”
The US Ambassador’s Statement
Ken Salazar, the US Ambassador to Mexico, released a statement saying “On Friday, March 3, unknown assailants in Matamoros, Tamaulipas kidnapped four US citizens at gunpoint in an incident in which an innocent Mexican citizen was tragically killed.” (Referring to the female bystander who was killed by a stray bullet.)
The ambassador continued, saying that citizen security is “the most fundamental role of the US government. Officials from various US law enforcement agencies are working with Mexican authorities at all the levels of government [municipal, state and federal] to achieve the safe return of our compatriots.”
Noteworthy Aspects of the Footage and Images
According to the version of events published in Mexican newspapers like El Universal, there was a car chase which led to a car accident and then “an intense shooting”. Whether police were involved in this intense shooting is not clarified.
Here is something to note, the hitmen in the footage appear to be in no rush to leave the area. If state police were present (or near) the crash site, the hitmen would presumably be moving more quickly and still attempting to escape.
A New Witness Account of the Crash
A woman who was at the scene told Associated Press reporters what she saw, but asked that her identity remain concealed to avoid cartel retribution.
The woman said that she saw the white van get hit by another car near the intersection, and that a shootout then broke out. She claimed that another SUV rolled up and several armed men hopped off.
“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 that the gunmen forced a woman, who was able to walk, into the back of a pick-up truck. 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 at the scene after the cartel members had left.
American Victims Identified
The four Americans have now been identified as:
Latavia “Tay” Washington McGee
Eric James Williams
[also identified by some outlets as Eric Wise]
- Zindell Brown
According to her mother, McGee and her cousin Woodard were among the victims in Matamoros along with their friends Brown and Williams.
An FBI agent visited Burgess on Friday morning to ask her if she recognized the driver, who has been identified as Williams. She confirmed with the FBI agent that Williams was the person her daughter and nephew had been traveling with to Mexico.
Sources: El Universal, La Jornada, Heraldo de México, Tamaulipas Código Rojo, El Guzman Post 1, Post 2, KRGV, CNN, US Embassy in Mexico, El Occidental, LatinUS, El Imparcial, Associated Press, BBC, CSPAN, San Diego Union Tribune
Please note: The following video is being alleged by certain Twitter accounts to depict the shooting in Matamoros however it is actually footage from an entirely different shooting which occurred in Obregon, Sonora.
Also, several Twitter accounts have also falsely stated that the Americans kidnapped were an FBI agent and his family. This misinformation was likely based on a poor translation of the official statement of the FBI looking for those responsible and finding the victims.
To see more details about Americans’ trip down to Mexico and the cartel context of the area, please see this story.