The four Americans kidnapped at gunpoint in Matamoros have now been identified as a group of friends who travelled to Mexico for a tummy tuck procedure.
Family members named the group on Monday as Latavia “Tay” McGee, Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams.
The four were travelling in a white minivan with North Carolina licence plates when they crossed the US border into Mexico on Friday (3 March).
Not long after entering Matamoros – an area dominated by the Gulf drug cartel – they came under fire from a group of armed men and were bundled into the back of a pickup truck. They have not been seen since.
Ms McGee’s mother Barbara Burgess told ABC News that her daughter had traveled from her home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to get a tummy tuck in Mexico, and that her cousin Mr Woodard and their two friends were accompanying her on the ride.
Ms Burgess said she was worried about her daughter going and warned her it might not be safe.
But, her daughter brushed off her concerns telling her: “Ma, I’ll be okay”.
Ms Burgess last heard from Ms McGee on Friday when she called to say that they were just 15 minutes from the cosmetic surgeon’s office where she was scheduled to have the procedure that day.
She never heard from her daughter again.
Ms Burgess said she tried calling Ms McGee later that day but her phone went straight to voicemail.
Not long later, she said she received a visit from an FBI agent, revealing what had happened.
Mr Brown’s sister Zalandria Brown told The Associated Press that the situation felt like a “bad dream” as she revealed that her younger brother had voiced concerns about travelling to such a dangerous place.
“Zindell kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t go down,’” she said.
But Mr Brown, a 28-year-old living in Myrtle Beach, still went on the trip with his three friends – in part because they had all agreed to help share driving duties.
“This is like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” said Ms Brown.
“To see a member of your family thrown in the back of a truck and dragged, it is just unbelievable.”
Mr Brown’s mother Christina Hickson told WPDE she “immediately” recognised him in the disturbing video circulating on social media.
The video, which has not been verified, shows armed men loading four people into the bed of a white pickup truck.
While one individual is moving and sitting upright, the other three are merely dragged limp into the vehicle.
“I knew that he was a third one that was placed on the truck, at that point, my heart was low... Because of how they were treating him,” said Ms Hickson.
“They were just slamming them on the truck like they were dead dogs and that was the most heartfelt moment so far.”
She added: “The waiting is the worse part. It has its advantages and disadvantages. But, however, no news is good news. That’s the way I’m staying with it. No news is good news and that’s what will give me the audacity to.”
Mr Williams’ North Carolina diver’s license was found at the scene of the abduction, reported ABC News.
US officials have not yet formally identified the four people kidnapped.
The US State Department is advising Americans not to travel to Tamaulipas due to the risk of crime and kidnapping. The region is on the “Level 4: Do Not Travel” list.
The border city of Matamoros is largely controlled by the Gulf drug cartel, with violence and migrant smuggling rife.
Oliver Rich, Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division of the FBI, said in the press release that the FBI is seeking the public’s help in identifying the assailants responsible for the assault and kidnapping.
A reward of $50,000 is being offered for information leading to the return of the victims and the arrest of the kidnappers.
An investigation – involving the FBI, federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies – is currently underway.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the FBI San Antonio Division at 210-225-6741 or to submit tips anonymously online at https://tips.fbi.gov