Two kidnapped Americans found dead after entering Mexico for health care

Red Cross worker closes the door of an ambulance carrying two Americans found alive after their abduction. Credit: AP

Two of four Americans kidnapped in Mexico last week have been found dead by authorities.

The four were travelling on Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates when they got caught in a deadly shootout and were kidnapped by heavily armed men.

They came under fire shortly after entering the city of Matamoros from Brownsville, at the southernmost tip of Texas near the Gulf coast, and were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men, the FBI said in a statement on Sunday.

Officials from both countries have said that the group had crossed the border for health care.

Two other members from the group have been found alive, with authorities stating that one of the pair had been wounded while the other had not.

The surviving pair were escorted back to the US by a convoy of ambulances and SUVs flanked by Mexican military Humvees and National Guard trucks with mounted machine guns.

FBI units escorting ambulances carrying the two survivors. Credit: AP

The bureau had offered a $50,000 (£41,692) reward for the victims' return and the arrest of the kidnappers.

Authorities did not share any additional details about where or how they were found.

Tamaulipas’ chief prosecutor, Irving Barrios, told reporters that a Mexican woman had also died in Friday’s shootings after being caught in the crossfire.

Zalandria Brown of Florence, in South Carolina, said she has been in contact with the FBI and local officials after learning that her younger brother, Zindell Brown, is one of the four victims.

“This is like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from,” she said in a phone interview.

“To see a member of your family thrown in the back of a truck and dragged, it is just unbelievable.”

Ms Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, and two friends had accompanied a third friend who was going to Mexico for a tummy tuck surgery.

The white minivan with North Carolina plates and several bullet holes at the crime scene where gunmen kidnapped four people. Credit: AP

Ms Brown said the group was extremely close and they all made the trip in part to help split up the driving duties.

They were aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother had expressed some misgivings.

“Zindell kept saying, ‘we shouldn’t go down',” she said.

A video posted to social media on Friday showed men with assault rifles and tan body armour loading the four people into the bed of a white pickup in broad daylight.

One was alive and sitting up, but the others seemed either dead or wounded.

At least one person appeared to lift his head from the pavement before being dragged to the truck.

The scene illustrates the terror that has prevailed for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of the powerful Gulf drug cartel who often fight among themselves.

Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared in Tamaulipas state alone.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday that “there was a confrontation between groups, and they were detained,” without offering details.

He had originally said the four Americans came to Mexico to buy medications.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and US President Joe Biden pictured together in January. Credit: AP

A woman driving in Matamoros, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, said she witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and abduction.

The white minivan was hit by another vehicle near an intersection, then gunfire rang out and another SUV rolled up with several men, the woman said.

“All of a sudden they (the gunmen) were in front of us,” she said. “I entered a state of shock, nobody honked their horn, nobody moved.

"Everybody must have been thinking the same thing, ‘if we move they will see us, or they might shoot us.’”

She said the gunmen forced a woman, who was able to walk, into the back of a pickup. Another person was carried to the truck but could still move his head.

“The other two they dragged across the pavement, we don't know if they were alive or dead,” she said. Mexican authorities arrived minutes later.

O’dell William Brown, Zindell's father, said the family is still searching for answers but “I don’t know which way to go right now."

Shootouts in Matamoros were so bad on Friday that the US Consulate issued an alert about the danger and local authorities warned people to shelter in place.

It was not immediately clear how the abductions may have been connected to that violence.

President Joe Biden had been informed of the situation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday.

She declined to answer other questions, due to privacy concerns.

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