A tummy tuck appointment, cartel ambush on video and stash house rescue: Timeline of the Mexico kidnapping
Four US citizens were caught up in a drug cartel shootout while on a medical tourism trip to Mexico, leaving two dead and two held captive for days.
The four friends were ambushed by gunfire shortly after their minivan crossed the border into the city of Matamoros on 3 March, before being hauled off in a pickup truck.
They were found in a wooden shack on 7 March in a remote area of the Gulf State in a rural area of east of Matamoros.
Two of the victims, Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, were found dead in the shack, an official told CNN.
Latavia Washington McGee and Eric James Williams survived, although Mr Williams suffered gunshot wounds to his legs. They have since been transferred to a hospital in Texas.
Here’s a timeline of how the deadly attack and dramatic recovery unfolded:
Friday 3 March
The four close friends left South Carolina on Thursday bound for Brownsville, Texas, where they were booked into a hotel, a friend told CNN.
They were heading to see a cosmetic surgeon in Matamoros, where Ms McGee was booked to undergo a medical procedure on 3 March.
The group crossed from into the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, in a white minivan with North Carolina plates, at about 9.18am, Governor Américo Villarreal said.
The friend told CNN that the group became lost on their way to the clinic, and couldn’t access online maps due to a poor signal.
Soon after crossing into Mexico the group’s minivan was fired at by gunmen. Footage of the victims being dragged and roughly thrown into the back of a pickup truck was posted to Twitter.
A Mexican woman, 33, also died from a stray bullet in the shootout, Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica said.
Mr Barrios Mojica said when security forces arrived at the scene, they saw the van had North Carolina licence plates and contacted US officials.
The US Consulate in Mexico was so concerned that it issued an alert to avoid the vicinity of Calle Primera and Lauro Villar after reports of a fatal shooting.
They remind US citizens that a Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory was in place for Matamoros, citing organised crime activity and kidnapping.
The area has been plagued with violence from the Gulf Cartel.
Saturday 4 March
Investigators in Mexico continued to process the crime scene for clues to the identity of the victims and assailants. They processed the vehicles to obtain DNA and ballistics and scour CCTV footage.
The doctor’s surgery where they had been due to visit contacted Ms McGee’s cousin after she failed to show up for her appointment.
A friend told CNN that when she heard the group hadn’t arrived, she called the doctor’s office.
“When I reached out to the doctor’s office, they told me that Latavia had reached out to them to ask them for directions because she was lost,” the friend told CNN.
Another friend who travelled with the group to Brownsville filed a report with police to say they hadn’t heard from them.
Sunday 5 March
The FBI’s San Antonio Division issue a statement asking for the public’s help in finding suspects responsible for the kidnapping.
They announced a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of those involved.
“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” the release stated.
Meanwhile, concern continued to grow for the missing group among their family and friends.
Ms McGee’s family began searching online for any trace of what happened to her, and found a video that appears to show the kidnapping.
The family recognised her clothing and blond hair from the clip, they told CNN.
Monday 6 March
Family members appealed for help in the media to find the missing group on Monday.
Ms Washington’s aunt, Mary McFadden, told CNN they were desperate for her to return to her children.
Mexican federal and local authorities continued to search for the missing group.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Joe Biden had been informed of the situation, according to the AP. Attorney General Merrick Garland was also briefed the kidnapping.
Tuesday 7 March
On Tuesday morning, the group were found in a wooden house in a remote wooded area east of Matamoros called Ejido Tecolote by Mexican authorities.
Shaeed Woodard, 33, and Zindell Brown, in his mid 20s, were dead, Mr Williams had been shot several times in the legs. Ms McGee was not seriously hurt, according to Tamaulipas Governor Américo Villarreal.
One suspect, a 24-year-old identified as Jose N who had been guarding the victims, was arrested in connection with the kidnapping plot, Mexican officials said.
Mr Villareal said that the kidnappers had moved the four victims “in order to create confusion and avoid rescue efforts”.
Mexican authorities say they believe the kidnapping was a case of mistaken identity.
Their working assumption is that the cartel group falsely believed they were Haitian drug smugglers, a US official told CNN.
During a Tuesday morning press conference, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador said: “We're very sorry to have this happen in our country and we send our condolences to the families of the victims, their friends, to the people of the United States.”
He pledged to bring those responsible to justice.
The surviving Americans were brought back to Brownsville, Texas, on Tuesday in ambulances and escorted by a convoy of heavily armed Mexican military personnel. They were being treated at the Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, according to the Brownsville Herald.