Authorities were searching Tuesday for four Americans who were shot at by gunmen and kidnapped shortly after crossing the border into northern Mexico last week, as more information about the victims comes to light.
The FBI has offered a $50,000 reward for the safe return of the U.S. citizens, who were kidnapped after driving into Matamoros, Tamaulipas, just south of Brownsville, Texas, on Friday.
Dramatic footage showing a gunman dragging people into a white pickup truck captured the kidnapping as it unfolded, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the matter confirmed.
Authorities have yet to identify the four people.
One of the victims was identified as LaTavia Washington McGee by her cousin, Aliyah McCleod, who is acting as a family spokesperson.
McCleod said the group is from South Carolina, but had been traveling in a rental vehicle with North Carolina license plates when they entered Matamoros. The FBI confirmed that the group was traveling in a white minivan with North Carolina plates.
McCleod said the group had traveled to Mexico for a “medical procedure.” She said her family was pleading for their safe return.
A law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter said a woman in the group had been seeking a cosmetic medical procedure. The official said cartel gunmen had targeted the group in a case of mistaken identity.
Zalandria Brown of Florence, South Carolina, told The Associated Press that her younger brother, Zindell, was also among the four victims. She said she had been in contact with the FBI and local officials after learning her sibling had been kidnapped.
“This is like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” she told the news agency. “To see a member of your family thrown in the back of a truck and dragged, it is just unbelievable.”
Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, had been on the trip to accompany a friend who was traveling to Mexico for a procedure.
At a news briefing in Washington on Monday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration was “closely following the assault and kidnapping of four U.S. citizens.”
“These sorts of attacks are unacceptable,” she said, adding that U.S. law enforcement was in touch with Mexican authorities, as were the departments of State and Homeland Security.
“We will continue to coordinate with Mexico and push them to bring those responsible to justice,” Jean-Pierre said.
Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said in a statement Monday that an “innocent Mexican citizen was tragically killed” during the kidnapping.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a daily news conference that the Americans were in the country to buy medicine, which is a common practice for people seeking cheaper medications across the southern border.
The FBI and Mexican law enforcement are investigating, with the bureau asking the public for information leading to arrests. Anyone with information is urged to call the FBI’s San Antonio division at 210-225-6741.
The State Department has a “Do Not Travel” warning in place for Tamaulipas state due to “crime and kidnapping.” It said organized crime activity, including gunbattles, armed robberies and kidnappings, are common along the northern border and in Ciudad Victoria.
“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” the warning says.
Matteo Moschella and Rima Abdelkader contributed.