CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — The anonymous tip that led Mexican authorities to a remote cabin where four kidnapped Americans were detained described armed men, people wearing blindfolds and a lot of activity around a farm.
Authorities headed to the countryside east of Matamoros Tuesday morning, exiting the highway and driving remote dirt roads in search of the described location, according to Mexican investigative documents reviewed by The Associated Press Friday.
Finally, they saw the wooden cabin, far from homes or businesses, surrounded by brush, and a white pickup parked outside, just like the one the Americans had loaded into last Friday. Then they began to hear someone yell, “Help!”
Inside the shackAccording to the documents, Latavia “Tay” McGee and Eric Williams were blindfolded. Beside them lay the bodies of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, wrapped in blankets and plastic bags. When authorities arrived, McGee and Williams desperately shouted at them in English.
A guard who tried to escape through a back door was quickly apprehended, the documents said. He was wearing a tactical vest, but it is not stated that he was armed.
The four Americans had come to Matamoros from Texas so that McGee could undergo cosmetic surgery. Around noon they were fired upon in the center of Matamoros and then loaded into the pickup truck. Another friend, who remained in Brownsville, called the police after they couldn’t reach the group crossing the border. A Mexican woman, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed, apparently by a stray bullet.
In the letter The Associated Press obtained Thursday through a Tamaulipas state law enforcement official, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf Cartel apologized to the citizens of Matamoros where the Americans were kidnapped, Servando, and the four Americans and their families.
But relatives of the kidnapped Americans said the purported apology has done little to ease the pain of their loved ones killed or injured.
Woodard’s father said he was speechless when he learned the cartel had apologized for the violent kidnapping that was caught on video that quickly spread online.
‘I’ve been trying to understand something about it for a whole week. Just restless, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. It’s just crazy to see your own child taken from you in such a way, in such a violent way. He didn’t deserve it,” James Woodard told reporters on Thursday, referring to his son’s death.
Williams’ cousin, who was shot in the left leg during the kidnapping, said his family feels “great” knowing he’s alive, but won’t accept an apology from the cartel.
“It won’t change the suffering we’ve been through,” Jerry Wallace told the AP on Thursday. Wallace, 62, called on the US and Mexican governments to better crack down on cartel violence.
U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar told reporters Friday that U.S. officials contacted President Andrés Manuel López Obrador directly this weekend to request help locating the missing Americans in Matamoros. He said the cartel there needs to be “dismantled”.
The letter attributed to the cartel condemned last week’s violence and said the gang had turned over its own members responsible to authorities.
“We have decided to extradite those directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted according to their own decision-making and lack of discipline,” the letter reads, adding that those individuals had gone against the rules of the cartel . including “respect for the life and well-being of the innocent”.
A photo of five men bound face down on the sidewalk accompanied the letter, which the official shared with The Associated Press on the condition that they remain anonymous as they were not authorized to share the document.
A separate state security official said five men were found tied up in one of the vehicles authorities were searching for, along with the letter. That official also spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter.
On Friday, Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios said via Twitter that five people linked to the violence had been arrested on charges of aggravated kidnapping and murder. He said only one other person had been arrested in recent days.
Contributors to this report were Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas.