By Jack Phillips
Mexican officials arrested five people in connection to the recent kidnappings and murders of Americans near the U.S.-Mexico border, said the attorney general for the Mexican state of Tamaulipas on Friday.
In a statement on Twitter, Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica confirmed the arrests of five suspects “linked” to the March 3 incident in Matamoros “for the crimes of aggravated kidnapping and intentional simple homicide.” Another person who was recently arrested was linked to the kidnappings and murders, he wrote.
Mojica wrote on Thursday night in a separate statement that five vehicles, including a Lamborghini model stolen on U.S. soil, were located in Matamoros as part of an operation. Earlier in the week, officials confirmed the arrest of one suspect who was guarding the victims on the outskirts of the city.
Two Americans and a Mexican woman were killed when an individual opened fire on the four Americans after they arrived in Matamoros, located just south of the border from Brownsville, Texas, according to officials. The bodies of the two dead Americans, identified as Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, to U.S. authorities on Thursday, officials said.
Tamaulipas state Gov. Americo Villarreal previously told a news conference that a woman and a man survived the incident. They were identified as Eric Williams and LaTavia Washington McGee. The four U.S. citizens reportedly had traveled from the Carolinas to Mexico to receive cosmetic surgery.
The arrests came as a drug cartel allegedly involved in the kidnapping issued an apology over the incident, according to The Associated Press and CNN. A purported handwritten letter from the cartel was posted in a public area in Matamoros this week, while AP reported that a state law enforcement official provided the newswire service with the apology.
“We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline,” the letter said, adding that the individuals went against the cartel’s rules, which include “respecting the life and well-being of the innocent.”
Photos published online also appeared to show the five cartel members who were handed over to Mexican authorities. The Epoch Times cannot confirm the authenticity of the apology or the letter or the photos.
“The Gulf Cartel apologizes to the society of Matamoros, the relatives of Ms. Areli, and the affected American people and families,” the letter also said, reported CNN. “The Gulf Cartel, Scorpion Group, strongly condemns the events of last Friday,” the letter added, referring to a branch of the criminal organization.
Last Friday, after the four Americans crossed into Matamoros from Texas, they were fired on in downtown Matamoros and then loaded into a pickup truck. The slain Mexican woman was identified as 33-year-old Areli Pablo Servando and was apparently by a stray bullet.
Another friend, who remained in Brownsville, called police after being unable to reach the group that crossed the border Friday morning.
Brownsville Police Department spokesman Martin Sandoval said Thursday that officers followed protocol by checking local hospitals and jails after receiving the report of the missing people. A detective was assigned to the case within the hour and then alerted the FBI after realizing the people had crossed into Mexico. Shortly after, the FBI took over the case as social media videos began to show a shootout with the victims matching the description of the missing people.
The Americans told investigators they were taken to the clinic in an ambulance to receive first aid, a statement said. By reviewing police surveillance video around the city, authorities were able to identify the ambulance and find the clinic. No arrests were made at the clinic, according to the statement.
In the meantime, the FBI and U.S. Department of State have advised Americans to refrain from traveling to Mexico, especially certain states that are placed on the State Department’s “Level 4 – Do Not Travel” list due to the high risk of kidnappings and crime.
“If you’re driving there, which most people will from Arizona, stay on the main highways. Try not to veer too far off course. That’s where you can kind of get into sticky situations,” FBI Phoenix spokeswoman Brooke Brennan told Fox-10. “Have an emergency contact, make sure you’re checking in with them, and make sure they know how often you plan to check in with them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.