New video has emerged of the moments before four Americans were kidnapped by cartel members in Mexico, as the local attorney general confirmed five arrests in the case.
LaTavia McGee, Eric Williams, Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown were on their way to a plastic surgeon’s office in Matamoros on 3 March when they were ambushed by members of the Gulf cartel’s Scorpion faction, according to Mexican officials and an “apology” letter by the cartel.
Woodard and Brown had been killed by the time Mexico authorities located the group at a “stash house” in a rural area east of Matamoros. Mr Williams and Ms McGee survived the kidnapping and have since returned to the US.
A Facebook live video obtained by CNN shows the group, who travelled to Mexico so Ms Mcgee could undergo a tummy tuck procedure, in their vehicle just hours before they were caught in a shoutout and forced out of the car by gunmen in broad daylight.
“Y’all never been to Mexico, Y’all don’t even know what it’s like in Mexico ... Hola!” a man, possibly Mr Williams, is heard saying as he laughs.
Mexico law enforcement investigating the attack on the Americans said that a grey Volkswagen Jetta began to tailgate their vehicle nearly two hours after they crossed the border in Brownsville, Texas. Around 11.41am, several vans joined in following the group, per CNN.
Just minutes later, several armed men got out of their cars and forced the victims into the rear of a white pickup truck. The kidnapping was captured in shocking video widely shared on social media.
It comes as Tamaulipas General Attorney Irving Barrios Mojica confirmed that six individuals are in custody for the fatal kidnapping.
Five of the men in custody appeared to be the same Scorpion faction members turned in by the criminal organisation along with a letter claiming that they “acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline” and went against the group’s rules of “respecting innocent people’s life.”
According to the Tamaulipas AG’s Office, the men are Antonio de Jesús “V”, Luis “V”, Ever Noel “H”, Juan Francisco “L” and Gustavo “M”. They have been charged with aggravated kidnapping and murder in the first degree.
A sixth suspect, José Guadalupe “G”, was captured on Tuesday as he guarded the scene of the kidnapping.
On Wednesday, an unnamed Tamaulipas state law enforcement official provided a letter believed to be authored by the Gulf drug cartel to the Associated Press.
In it, the cartel apologised to residents of Matamoros who witnessed the shooting and the families of the American victims and a Mexican woman who died after she was caught in the gunfire.
A picture of the five alleged suspects, who resembled the five confirmed arrests on Friday, was also shared with the AP.
“ [The five members] went against the Gulf drug cartel’s rules of respecting the life and integrity of innocent people. We apologise to residents of Matamoros ... and the American families affected,” the letter reads.
“The Gulf cartel asks the community to be calm because we’re committed to ensuring that these types of mistakes are not made ever again and making those who are guilty pay.”
Autopsies on the bodies of the two slain victims have been completed in Mexico and their bodies have since been returned to the US, where a second autopsy is planned. The two survivors returned to the US on the same day of their rescue.
Officials familiar with the investigation previously told CNN that they believe a Mexican cartel mistook the victims for Haitian drug smugglers.
According to official documents obtained by Reuters, Mexican investigators have also conducted deep background checks on the four victims. The filings confirmed one of the prosecutions’ lines of inquiry is that the kidnappers thought the victims tried to traffick drugs into Matamoros.
However, officials noted, “it cannot be ruled out that the attack against (the Americans) could be directly linked to drug trafficking operations”.
The Scorpion faction of the Gulf drug cartel is known to dominate the Matamoros area and responds with violence when other criminal organisations threaten to operate in the territory. The subgroup, also known as The Cyclones, is accused of being in charge of gruesome execution-style killings against other cells of the cartel, per Mexican outlet La Reforma.
As well as confronting other factions, the Cyclones are at war with rival cartels such as the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Cártel del Noreste.