By Jack Phillips
The U.S. Consulate in a Mexican border city issued an alert about violence and warned American citizens not to travel there after two Americans were killed by criminals and two more were abducted.
After the reported kidnapping, the U.S. State Department issued an alert about violence in Matamoros and reminded U.S. citizens that this part of Mexico—and other parts—are under a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning. That’s the highest warning in the State Department’s travel advisory system.
“The U.S. Consulate General reminds U.S. citizens that Tamaulipas is classified as Level 4: Do Not Travel in the State Department’s travel advisory for Mexico,” it said.
An advisory that was issued in October said that in Tamaulipas, where Matamoros is located, there are reports of rampant kidnappings and crime. Several other Mexican states are under similar a Level 4 alert, including Guerrero, Colima, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas. Most other Mexican states are under some type of travel advisory.
“Violent crime—such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery—is widespread and common in Mexico,” said the advisory. “The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico, as travel by U.S. government employees to certain areas is prohibited or restricted. In many states, local emergency services are limited outside the state capital or major cities.”
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros has issued at least four security alerts since early 2020, issuing warnings about kidnappings, cartel violence, crime, and other incidents. A report from CBS News noted that four American siblings went missing in Matamoros in 2014 before they were later found murdered and buried as their parents said they were allegedly abducted by men dressed in police uniforms.
Tamaulipas Gov. Americo Villarreal told reporters that two were found dead and two others were found alive in a wooden shack, where they were being guarded by a man who was arrested. Villarreal said the captive Americans had been moved around by their captors, and at one point were taken to a medical clinic “to create confusion and avoid efforts to rescue them.”
The two dead will be turned over to U.S. authorities following forensic work at the Matamoros morgue in the coming hours, the governor said.
A relative of one of the victims said Monday that the four had traveled together from the Carolinas so one of them could get a tummy tuck surgery from a doctor in the Mexican border city of Matamoros, where Friday’s abduction took place.
Villareal said the wounded American, Eric Williams, had been shot in the left leg and the wound was not life-threatening. The survivors were taken to Valley Regional Medical Center with an FBI escort, the Brownsville Herald reported. A spokesperson for the hospital referred all inquiries to the FBI.
Villarreal also told reporters that one person, a 24-year-old male, was arrested in connection to the incident. The suspect, he added, was undertaking “surveillance functions of the victims.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the people responsible would be punished. He referenced arrests made in the 2019 killings of nine U.S.-Mexican dual citizens in Sonora near the U.S. border.
On Tuesday, the State Department called for accountability after the kidnapping but did not say what it should look like. In a news conference, spokesman Ned Price did not rule out whether the United States may designate cartels as terrorist organizations, which is something that GOP lawmakers have promoted.
“We want to see accountability for the violence that has been inflicted on these Americans that tragically led to the death of two of them,” Price said.
“When it comes to the drug cartels, we’re going to do what is most effective to limit their ability to traffic in their wares,” he added. “This is something that our colleagues at the DEA are extremely focused on. We have laws on the books, we have designated these criminal organizations, these drug trafficking organizations, consistent with the authorities that we as a government have.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.