Matamoros Kidnapping

The Drug Cartel Attack

Matamoros Kidnapping

"The guilty parties will pay"

On March 3, 2023, a Matamoros kidapping incident sparked an international outcry when a group of American citizens who crossed the border into the Mexican state of Tamaulipas were intercepted by an armed group of cartel hitmen.

Two of the four American were killed outright, and the others were wounded in what many suspected was a drug trafficking related attack. However, it has since emerged that it was a case of mistaken identity by members of the notorious Gulf cartel.

What happened in Matamoros?

In the early morning hours of March 3, 2023, reports began to emerge of an incident that happened in the city of Matamoros, in which four Americans were attacked during what was believed to be either a deliberate shooting, or an attempted kidnapping.

The group, three men and one woman, all American citizens, were said to be crossing from Texas and into the Mexico border to travel to the city of Matamoros. The reason for the journey into such dangerous territory was initially unknown.

A vehicle was said to have crashed after shooting erupted in the street. At that point State police were alleged to have engaged in a gunfight with armed men. Initial reports indicated that a Mexican woman was reportedly struck by a stray bullet, causing her to fall to the ground and bleed to death.

After the initial armed confrontation, the gunmen escaped the scene, however the state police pursued, which led to a second intense shootout. At some point, a white minivan crashed into a red SUV, which was initially thought to be driven by the armed men.

It was later learned the white minivan was driven by civilians, and was carrying three passengers. Images from the incident show these four occupants on the street, a woman appeared to sat upright but dazed, and three men who appeared unresponsive lying on the ground.

A video posted on social media appeared to show armed men loading the the three unresponsive black males and one black female onto the bed of their white pickup truck. It was believed these armed men were cartel members, who often take the dead and wounded from shootouts, so authorities have little idea of the number of casualties.

Cartel gunmen load the dead and wounded Americans into a truck.

Two days after this incident, the US embassy put out the following press release, saying: The FBI is seeking the public’s help to identify the person(s) responsible for the assault and kidnapping of four American citizens, on March 3, 2023 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

The FBI, its federal partners, and Mexican law enforcement authorities are investigating the case. The FBI announced that it is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the capture of those involved.

On March 3, 2023, four United States citizens crossed into Matamoros, Tamaulipas in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. Shortly after crossing into Mexico, unidentified gunmen shot the passengers of the vehicle. The gunmen herded the four US citizens into another vehicle and fled the scene with them.

It soon emerged that at least two of the Americans had been killed during the confrontation, their bodies loaded onto the truck along with the other two who were injured. Their whereabouts were unknown, but it was strongly suspected they were being held by the Gulf cartel at a safehouse.

Who were the kidnapped Americans?

American and Mexican media outlets, as well as online forums started to report on the identities of the kidnapped American citizens and elaborate on the possible reason why the four would venture south into the dangerous Mexican city of Matamoros.

They were named as Latavia Washington McGee, Shaeed Woodard, Eric James Williams, who was also named in some media reports as Eric Wise, and lastly 28-year-old Zindell Brown. It was reported that McGee and Woodard are cousins, and he agreed to accompany her on the road trip.

McGee, who was originally from Lake City, South Carolina, but currently lives in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, was believed to have travelled down to Mexico, according to relatives, for a cosmetic surgery procedure, which was presumably cheaper outside of the United States.

McGee, Williams, Woodard and Brown.

Zindell reportedly contacted his mother shortly after the group set off, while they were travelling through Mississippi. He told her that he was going to support one of his friends who was having a surgical procedure in Mexico.

Zindell then contacted his sister, Zalayna Grant, who later described it, saying: “When I texted him I said, ‘Where you at?’ And I was like ‘What you doing?’ And he said, ‘Riding. I’m in Mississippi.’ And I called because I needed to see this for sure.”

“So, we video-chatted with each other. He was talking to me. He talked to my baby. And he said ‘we are about to get back on the road. I will talk to you later.’ And I said ‘OK, just let me know your destinations.’ Because after he said they were going to Mexico”

“I was just like ‘be careful, be careful,’ and then when I hung up with him, I sent him some text messages. You know, letting him know to be careful. I said, ‘If y’all make it into Mexico. Just be very careful. Be aware of your surroundings.”

“If you run into any cartel roadblocks or anything. Don’t fight. Don’t resist whatever they tell you to do, all of you all do it. Because at least you have a chance if you do what they ask you to do,'” According to this statement, at least some of the group were aware of the dangers the cartels posed to even foreign visitors in Mexico.

This is likely why Ms. McGee requested her three male friends join her on the road trip. The group then came into contact with cartel gunmen shortly after they entered Mexico. The location where they came under gunfire is approximately a 6 minute drive from Matamoros International bridge.

There were rumours online that the kidnapped Americans might have been mistaken by the cartel gunmen for Haitian migrants living in Matamoros, due to the fact there is an overall lack of black American or Mexican citizens in the city.

In Matamoros, foreign migrants reside there in large tent encampments where people from places like Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Cuba live as they await the ending of the US’s Title 42 border restriction.

Why is Matamoros so dangerous?

The Mexico border city of Matamoros has an infamous reputation as one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. The state of Tamaulipas, in which Matamoros is located, is home to the Gulf Cartel, one of the oldest Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Although fractured from decades of infighting, the Gulf cartel or Cartel del Golfo (CDG) remains an imposing presence in the north of the country, and controls the flow of drugs into the United States through drug corridors which generate millions of dollars in revenue each month for the cartel.

The city of Matamoros has for many years been home of the influential and powerful Cárdenas family, who had for decades, controlled the Gulf cartel through their family connections as leaders of the growing drug trafficking trade.

It was under Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the notorious Mexican drug lord, that the family tightened their control over the state of Tamaulipas. It was Osiel who formed Los Zetas, the ruthless armed wing of the cartel, composed of former military soldiers, that eventually grew into a paramilitary force and cartel in its own right.

With his incarceration, the cartel slipped into infighting as various leaders of different factions attempted to gain control over the sprawling organization. As the years of gun battles and government anti-drug operations took its toll, the Gulf cartel suffered losses from the factional infighting.

Eventually the various groups that composed the cartel became more fragmented and today, it can hardly be seen as a unifying cartel, but rather a loose confederation of warring sub-groups, who vie with each other for dominance.

Which group orchestrated the Kidnapping?

One such group that has emerged is known as Grupo Escorpiones, or the Scorpions Group. This faction emerged recently, and little is known of its leadership or allegiances. However, it can be assumed the Scorpions are allied to the remaining Cárdenas clan.

The group is responsible for many crimes in the border city of Matamoros, and regularly engaged both rivals cartel gunmen and members of the Mexican military in gunfights that see criminals and civilians alike killed in the shootouts.

Kidnappings are also a speciality of the cartel, and the Scorpions Group, like almost every other Mexican drug trafficking organization, orchestrates in kidnappings as a source of income. In most cases, the victims are never released, and simply vanish, their bodies often disposed of in the most gruesome of ways.

The Scorpions Group with kidnapping victims.

In 2022, Mexico reached the horrific milestone of 100,000 people disappeared or missing in the country. Most kidnappings are carried out with impunity, often with assistance from state police, who in some cases are active members of the cartel, or working in assistance in some capacity, either through bribery or cooercion.

Shortly after the kidnappings, the United States government issued a travel warning to its citizens for parts of Mexico. There were soon calls from some US politicians for more affirmative action against the cartels. Earlier in the week, one suspect identified as Jose Guadalupe “N” was arrested.

On March 7, the Governor of Tamaulipas Américo Villarreal Anaya, made an announcement confirming that the four Americans kidnapped on Friday in Matamoros have already been located. However, among them, two were found dead from gunshot wounds and one injured.

US Ambassador Ken Salazar met with Mexican Presidet Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in order to discuss the matter. Salazar reiterated that the US State Department had “no greater priority” than the well-being of its citizens abroad. The FBI announced it was seeking help from the public and offered a $50,000 reward for informartion leading to the return of the missing US citizens and the apprehension of the kidnappers.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said further details would be released later. “We are very sorry that this happened in our country, and we send our condolences to the families of the victims, friends, and the United States government, and we will continue doing our work to guarantee peace and tranquility,” he said.

The Offering

On March 9, 2023, news reports started appearing that indicated the Matamoros faction of the Mexican Gulf Cartel had left a group of their own gunmen for police, as a type of offering to the government, in order, presumably, to appease the controversy that had arisen as a result of the kidnappings and murders.

It was alleged that these gunmen, were the members of the Grupo Escorpiones responsible for the recent attack on the four Americans, in which two were left dead and the other two injured. Later that day pictures began to emerge online that seemingly confirmed the rumours.

The images revealed a group of five men, laying face down in the middle of the road with their shirts pulled up over their heads, their hands bound with zip ties that were linking three together, and one man’s legs tied, presumably to stop the group from escaping the scene.

Cartel gunmen left tied by members of their own organization.

The men were found lying on a road at an inter-section of Prima Street and Lauro Villar Avenue, in front of a black Silverado pick-up truck with its doors flung open, while on the opposite pavement, were laid out an assortment of weapons and tactical gear.

These guns, ammunition and body armour was presumably used by the sicarios in orchestrating the kidnapping and shooting of the four Americans, and had been left by the Cartel as part of their offering to investigators, to show these were the men who committed the crime.

Found inside the pick-up truck was a narco message, left by the perpetrators. It appeared to be an explanation from the the Grupo Escorpiones faction of the Gulf Cartel (CDG) concerning their reason for appearing to give up their own members.

The message translated read;

The Gulf Cartel Grupo Escorpiones strongly condemns the events of Friday, March 3. In which unfortunately an innocent working mother died. And 4 American citizens were kidnapped, of which 2 died. For this reason we have decided to hand over those involved and directly responsible for the events who at all times acted under their own determination and indiscipline and against the rules in which the CDG has always operated.

We respect the life, tranquility and integrity of the innocent. The CDG apologizes to the society of Matamoros, the relatives of Mrs. Arely, the affected American individuals, and families. In addition the CDG asks society to remain calm because we are committed to ensure that these errors caused by indiscipline aren’t repeated. The guilty parties will pay, regardless of who they are.

CDG Grupo Escorpiones

The narco message left by the Scorpions Group of the Gulf Cartel.

It is unknown at this stage if these men given up by the cartel are in fact the perpetrators of the kidnappings and murders. It is possible they were merely low level cartel enforcers who were given up, told they had to serve sentences in place of others by their superiors who threatened their families with death or worse.

Then again, it is entirely possible the cartel gave up these men simply because they were low level street thugs who committed a mistake and were now to pay in order to save the organization from further investigation.

It is equally unknown if these men acted on their own, or were carrying out the orders of someone higher up in the command hierarchy of the cartel. If this was the case, then the one who gave the orders would never be given up, as they would known too much about the inner workings of the cartel, and might pose a greater risk.

The five suspects apparently given up by the Gulf cartel.

These men were eventually identified as 33-year-old Antonio de Jesús Vidaurri Castillo, known as “Chuy” or “Chucho”, who was originally from Río Bravo, Tamaulipas. Luis Valdez Trejo, aged 33, originally from Tula, Tamaulipas, 31-year-old Gustavo Marcelino Rodarte, originally from Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Ever Noel Hernández Mora, aged 28 and originally from Guatemala. The fifth man was not identified.

In contrast to the many kidnappings each year, this particular incident was resolved relatively quickly, with many Mexicans voicing their frustration at what they see is as a disproportionate situation where kidnapped foreigners are involved.

Why did the Cartel give up their own men?

The reason for this offering to the police appears to have been an attempt by the Gulf Cartel in minimizing the amount of damage the incident had generated. Such acts committed against Mexican civilians are, sadly, not investigated as thoroughly as they would be if the victims were American, as they were in this incident.

Whenever kidnappings and murders occur within a plaza, or area under the Cartel’s control, it is known as “calento la plaza,” or heating the plaza, meaning the crimes being committed bring increased government and police attention to the area, something that causes the Cartel’s activities to come under greater scrutiny.

However, this incident was different. The increased media attention, particularly American media reports, began focusing on the Cartel and it’s territory. A criminal organization’s power often comes from the anonymity of both its members and crimes.

The Matamoros faction had long been in control of the entire Gulf Cartel, however in recent decades this power has waned. The group now has less influence outside of Matamoros, and so by handing over the gunmen accused of the kidnapping, this faction were hoping to divert focus away from the rest of the organization, potentially saving their criminal enterprise.

The attack also demonstrated that the Cartel has corrupted law enforcement, by paying out bribes to officers and government and security officials, allowing them to act almost with impunity. It was this corruption that allowed the kidnapping and attack to take place, with the gunmen having no fear of reprisals from state police.

Mexican police parade the suspects before the media.

It has long been suspected that the Mexican government had helped certain drug trafficking organizations, allowing one group to dominate the drug trade in exchange for a certain measure of control over both the flow of drugs, and the number of murders committed between warring factions.

The fact that many cartel members arrested for crimes in Matamoros are found to be employed in the either the municipal or state police means that a certain measure of collusion exists between law enforcement and criminals, so much so that there appears little distinction between the two, meaning almost no disparity between the state and the cartels.

Written by Nucleus

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