The two Americans who survived a kidnapping and assault by armed men in Mexico are being treated in a hospital in Brownsville, Texas, officials said Tuesday, as the mystery continues about what led to the violent encounter that left the other two in the group dead.
The four friends, whose whereabouts were unknown for days, were found in a “wooden house” near Matamoros after being taken to several locations including a medical clinic “to create confusion and avoid rescue efforts,” Tamaulipas Gov. Américo Villarreal said at a press conference Tuesday.
Mexican officials detained a person they identified as Jose “N,” a 24-year-old who was watching the victims when officials found them, Villarreal said, but the governor did not confirm whether he was connected to a criminal organization.
Mistaken identity is the most likely theory officials have for the attack and kidnapping, but they are still investigating the motive, said Irving Barrios, the attorney general for Tamaulipas, at a press conference Tuesday.
Both survivors—Latvia Washington McGee, who was uninjured, and Eric Williams, who suffered gunshot wounds—are being treated for their injuries at an American hospital, Villarreal said.
Williams’ wife, Michele Williams, who said she spoke to her husband on the phone, told CNN he was shot three times, twice in one leg and once in the other.
Officials are “in the process of working to repatriate the remains” of the two deceased Americans, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a press briefing Tuesday.
The four Americans were located Tuesday morning following a days-long search. On March 3, the group drove a white minivan with North Carolina license plates into the Mexican town of Matamoros, crossing the Mexican-American border from Brownsville, Texas, the FBI said. One member of the group was apparently making the trip for cosmetic tummy tuck operation, according to an AP report. After the Americans crossed the border they were met by an unidentified gunman who first fired at the minivan’s occupants and then moved them into another vehicle which fled the scene, the FBI said. A video circulating online appears to show how at least part of the incident played out, with armed men dragging the four Americans to the bed of a white pickup truck. During that attack, a Mexican citizen was also killed, according to Ken Salazar, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
The State Department advises U.S. citizens not to travel to Tamaulipas, the state Matamoros is located in, because of the risk of crime and kidnapping. Warnings from the U.S. government on the dangers of the area, due to drug cartel violence and the risk of kidnapping, have repeatedly appeared on the U.S. consulate website. The Gulf Cartel, which is based in Matamoros, controlled the area for much of the 2000s. Since the disagreements within the Gulf Cartel led to a break up, smaller gangs have been competing in the area, leading to an uptick in violence, according to a 2019 Congressional Research Service report.