4 Americans Were Kidnapped While Seeking Cosmetic Surgery in Mexico

The van the travelers were driving when they came under fire in Matamoros. Photo: STR/AP

A group of gunmen attacked and kidnapped four Americans in northeastern Mexico on Friday, leaving two dead and a third reportedly injured. Américo Villarreal Anaya, governor of the state of Tamaulipas, confirmed the details in a news conference on March 7, saying that “ambulances and the rest of the security personnel are on their way right now to offer support,” according to the New York Times.

One of the Americans is believed to have scheduled a cosmetic procedure in Matamoros, a town near the U.S.-Mexico border, and was accompanied by three friends and family members when their minivan came under fire. “All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” reads a statement from the FBI. Government officials from both countries indicated to CNN that they’d located the victims on March 7, apparently at a medical clinic. Of the two who survived, one reportedly suffered severe injuries.

Here’s what we know so far.

The victims’ families say they were headed to Mexico for a tummy-tuck surgery.

Having spoken with relatives, ABC identified the four victims in the attack: Latavia “Tay” McGee, who — according to her mother, Barbara Burgess, was traveling from South Carolina to Matamoros for an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) on March 3 — along with her cousin Shaeed Woodard and two of their friends, Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams. Burgess said McGee, a mother of five, called when she was 15 minutes away from the clinic. After that, Burgess said she couldn’t get a hold of her daughter. “Her phone just started going to voice mail,” she told ABC.

McGee and Woodard’s cousin, Corsica Cameron, added, “We still don’t know anything. It’s heartbreaking.” McGee’s kids are her “pride and joy,” Cameron went on. “We don’t know what to tell them.” Officials have not yet identified who in the group was killed.

Video footage, supposedly taken during the attack, shows the four travelers being dragged into the back of a pickup.

In its statement, the FBI said that the four travelers had come under fire “shortly after crossing into Mexico” from Brownsville, Texas, while driving a white minivan with North Carolina plates. Graphic video circulating on social media, which purportedly depicts the attack itself, may show what happened in more detail: Armed men wearing bulletproof vests haul bodies across a street and into the bed of a pickup truck, having diverted traffic after bringing the minivan to a stop. Only one of the victims looks able to move. The other three are limp, dragged across the street by their arms and legs. The scene depicted, however, lines up with the way federal investigators have described the attack, which killed “an innocent Mexican citizen,” U.S. ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar has said.

A search for the gunmen ensued over the weekend.

On March 5, the FBI announced a $50,000 reward “for the return of the victims and the arrest of those involved,” while ambassador Salazar reportedly said that the U.S. had “numerous” law-enforcement agencies “working with Mexican authorities at all levels of government to secure the safe return of our compatriots.” According to CNN, an unnamed “U.S. official familiar with the ongoing investigation” said the victims were located at a Matamoros clinic and that the Mexican government will examine the bodies of the deceased before sending them back to the U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the outlet that the two survivors were already back in the country and undergoing treatment at a Texas hospital.

According to ABC, Villarreal said that the attackers moved the victims between multiple locations over their three-day detention in an attempt to throw off investigators. One of the alleged kidnappers — the man purportedly tasked with keeping an eye on them when they were found — is said to be in custody.

Tamaulipas is listed as a no-go region for American tourists.

Because of a high incidence of organized crime and cartel activity in Tamaulipas, the State Department advises U.S. citizens not to go there. As the Times notes, though, cartels tend not to target Americans specifically. Instead, tourists may get involved in a bad situation by accident or circumstance. At the same time, the Mexican Council for the Medical Tourism Industry estimates that almost one million Americans visit the country — particularly its border towns — for medical reasons each year, according to the BBC. Given the often astronomical price of health care in the U.S. and the barriers to quality health insurance, that figure doesn’t feel particularly surprising.

Still, the attack on these four Americans appears deliberate, and a U.S. official told CNN that the gunmen may have mistaken them for smugglers. We will update this post as we learn more.

Americans Kidnapped While Seeking Cosmetic Surgery in Mexico