“We will do everything in our power to identify, find, and hold accountable the individuals responsible for this attack on American citizens,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised a thorough investigation with “no impunity” for those responsible. He said Mexico was working with the United States, but would not allow foreign intervention in national issues.
Biden administration officials have not publicly named the four Americans, but family members have identified them as Latavia “Tay” McGee, her cousin Shaeed Woodard and friends Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams.
Family members say they were traveling to Matamoros so McGee could get a cosmetic medical procedure. They rented a minivan in North Carolina for the journey.
The foursome had just crossed the border from Brownsville on Friday when they came under fire from unidentified gunmen three blocks from the Rio Grande. Video and photos verified by The Washington Post show men in black with protective vests and rifles forcing a woman and dragging three other people into the back of a white pickup truck.
A fifth person, “an innocent Mexican citizen,” was killed in the confrontation, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico said.
It remained unclear why the victims, who officials said had no apparent ties to the drug trade, were assaulted and abducted. Organized-crime groups in Mexico typically leave U.S. citizens alone to avoid running afoul of the U.S. government.
Michele Williams, Eric’s wife, said the FBI told her that the four Americans, who are Black, were mistaken for Haitians. Migrants in Matamoros are frequently kidnapped for ransom. Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica said he believed the kidnappings stemmed from “confusion.”
Mexican security forces located the Americans in a “wooden house” on the outskirts of Matamoros Tuesday morning. The governor of Tamaulipas state said their abductors had moved them among at least three locations.
Matamoros, home to 580,000 people, is the second-largest city in Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande from Texas. Tamaulipas is one of six Mexican states to which the State Department advises Americans against traveling, citing the risk of crime and kidnapping.
Mexico attracts more than 1 million medical tourists per year, industry groups say. It is not uncommon for Americans to travel to Matamoros for medical appointments or medicine at lower prices than are available in the United States.
Francis reported from London. Paulina Villegas and Ben Brasch in Washington and Leo Sands in London contributed to this report.