Four U.S. citizens have been kidnapped after gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in the northern Mexico border city of Matamoros, the FBI said. U.S. officials acknowledged on Monday that a Mexican citizen was murdered in the incident.
The four had entered Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, on Friday and were riding in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. The FBI San Antonio Division office said in a statement Sunday that the car came under fire immediately after it entered Mexico.
“All four Americans were loaded in a vehicle and driven from the area by armed guys,” the office stated. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the criminals.
A post on Twitter Friday claims to capture the moment they were kidnapped, CBS News’ Christina Ruffini reports. One woman, walking on her own, was shoved into a white pickup truck. Guys armed with long rifles and wearing bulletproof vests are then seen dragging one person after another into the van.
The conditions of the four remain unknown. The footage shared online looks to show some of them may be hurt. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar stated in a statement Monday that the Americans were taken at gunpoint and that a “innocent” Mexican citizen perished in the attack. He did not disclose any other details, but said multiple U.S. judicial agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing U.S. citizens.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated Monday that the Americans had crossed the border to obtain medicine and found themselves trapped in the crossfire between two armed groups. President Joe Biden had been apprised of the issue, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday, adding that the White House was “closely following” the situation.
“These sorts of insults are unacceptable,” she told reporters during a press briefing. “Our thoughts are with the families of these individuals and we stand ready to provide all relevant consular support.” She declined to address other queries, citing privacy concerns.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration was not in a position to confirm any reports that the Americans were crossing the border to acquire drugs. “We’re not going to comment on any active leads,” Price told reporters Monday, deferring to the FBI on those inquiries.
“We do also caution Americans of the existing travel guidance when it comes to this particular portion of Mexico,” Price added. Matamoros is home to feuding sections of the Gulf drug cartel and shootouts there on Friday were so violent that the U.S. Consulate issued a notice about the danger and local authorities ordered citizens to shelter in place. The alert also reminded U.S. citizens that this particular section of Mexico is a “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” which is the highest-level warning in the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory system.
Tamaulipas state police confirmed people had been murdered and injured Friday, but did not indicate how many. The state police said that neither police nor the military were involved in Friday’s shootouts.
“There have been two armed encounters between unidentified citizens,” the state police announced Friday on social media. “The actual number of the fallen is being corroborated.”
Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas typically go uncounted, because the cartels have a history taking bodies of their own with them. Local media often avoid reporting on such instances out of safety concerns, creating an information vacuum.
A video posted to social media Friday showed armed men carrying two bodies into a truck in broad daylight. Photos from the incident acquired by the AP show a white minivan with the driver’s side window shot out and all of the doors open resting on the side of the road after presumably hitting with red SUV. Several individuals were lying in the street beside it surrounded by rifle-toting assailants.
Their positions appeared to correlate with the footage shared online that was filmed from another viewpoint, which showed them being dragged across the street and loaded into the bed of a white pickup. One individual who was sitting up in the street walks under their own power to the pickup. At least one person appeared to lift his head from the pavement before being taken to the truck.
The U.S. State Department’s travel warning for Tamaulipas state urges U.S. citizens not to visit there. Nonetheless, being a border city, U.S. residents who live in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross to visit relatives, attend medical appointments or shop. It would also be a crossing point for people moving deeper into Mexico.
For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the “two-nation vacation” for spring breakers flocking to Texas’ South Padre Island.