McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The intersection in Matamoros, Mexico, where four Americans were shot at and kidnapped last week was a “chaotic scene” lined with first responders and Mexican Army, National Guard and state police, an eyewitness who drove through it told Border Report on Wednesday.
The Matamoros businessman described for Border Report what he saw as he drove through the spot around 1 p.m. CST on Friday in the northern Mexican border town across from Brownsville, Texas.
“Within five minutes after it happened, I went through that street taking someone to the nearby bus station,” he said.
“I went by where the body of the Mexican woman who was killed was lying on the floor,” he said. “The body was still on the ground covered with a blanket.”
This was minutes after four Americans were shot at, an incident that was captured on video now circulating on social media. Mexican officials on Tuesday said two Americans were killed by armed men who were thought to be linked to drug cartels.
Border Report has agreed not to identify the businessman due to concerns for his safety.
On Tuesday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced two of the American victims were found alive and two men were dead.
They were found in a wooden shack in an area run by cartel operatives a few miles southeast of downtown Matamoros on a road that leads to what locals call Bagdad Beach, Americo Villarreal, governor of Tamaulipas announced.
It also is an area where drug cartels are known to take victims and where the remains of those abducted have been found.
The four Americans have been identified as cousins Latavia McGee and Shaeed Woodard, and their friends Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams. The group had traveled to Matamoros, according to family reports, to accompany McGee, who was planning to undergo cosmetic surgery.
There have been media reports that she was having a tummy tuck — a common medical procedure that doctors do cheap in border towns.
McGee and Williams were taken Tuesday by ambulance in a caravan across the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates, and driven to a hospital in Brownsville.
Williams was shot in the leg. McGee reportedly was unharmed, Villarreal said. But photos show her dirty and obviously rattled after nearly four days held captive.
The businessman said he unknowingly drove through the corner of Calle Primera and Ave. Lauro Villar — the main thoroughfare to the nearest Gulf Coast beach — shortly after the shootings and abductions occurred.
He says he saw the bullet-ridden white van with North Carolina license plates that had been in an accident with a red SUV that was still at the crash scene.
He says also saw the body of the Mexican woman who was struck by a stray bullet about a block away. She reportedly had been waiting for public transportation at a bus stop.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar called the woman “an innocent Mexican citizen” who was caught in crossfire.
“There were all kinds of police diverting traffic,” the businessman said. “They were diverting traffic and they were pushing us through quickly. It was a chaotic scene. … I said ‘Oh my God something big has seriously happened.'”
He says he returned quickly to his Matamoros office and began making calls to find out what had happened.
He said immediately rumors began circulating that the four had been mistaken for Haitian migrants who were trying to buy drugs. There even were rumors that they were FBI or DEA agents.
The van reportedly crossed the Gateway International Bridge into Matamoros shortly after 9 a.m., and the businessman says many in Mexico are questioning what they did for over three hours.
CNN is reporting the group “got lost” trying to find the doctor’s office and had trouble communicating with the office due to spotty cellphone service, according to friends of the victims.
A 24-year-old man, identified as “Jose N,” has been arrested by Mexican authorities. He is accused of guarding the stash house where the Americans were found.
Gulf Cartel gangs control most aspects of crime, including the extortion of businesses, in this border city of 500,000, experts tell Border Report.
The businessman has held interests in Matamoros for years and has political connections. But he says lately the violence has gotten worse.
Shootings between the Gulf Cartel and their rivals the Cartel de Noreste cause panic and fear among residents. Journalists go missing and many Mexicans are killed.
He says most neighborhoods and corridors are guarded by what are called halcones — individuals hired by the cartel to ensure those entering areas have legitimate business there or live there. This is to prevent outsiders from trying to buy or sell drugs, he says.
“They are hired to wait in neighborhoods and if they see any suspicious activities they have orders to react to anything,” he said.
The businessman says incidents like this turn the world’s attention on Mexico and make it harder for businesses and economic development in the border region.
It also comes at a time when Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation that would name cartels as “terrorist organizations” and one bill even would authorize military action against Mexico to go after them — something Obrador this week called in a news conference “pure propaganda.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com