March 7, 2023 - 2 Americans dead, 2 found alive in Mexico kidnapping

By Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 3:03 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023
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7:30 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Friend of kidnapped Americans first reported disappearance on Saturday, police report shows

From CNN's Andy Rose

The disappearance of four Americans who were kidnapped in Mexico was first reported by a friend who called the police in Brownsville, Texas, on Saturday, a police report shows.

Cheryl Orange called police from a Motel 6 in Brownsville to report that Latavia McGee, Eric Williams and Shaeed Woodard had not been heard from since driving in a rented minivan toward Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday morning, according to police.

Orange said that McGee was planning to have a medical procedure there. Orange told police she had stayed behind in the United States because she did not have an ID with her.

The four had not been answering their cell phones, Orange said in the report. It adds that Brownsville Police checked a local jail to make sure that no one in the party had been taken into custody, but no other action was taken. 

McGee, Williams and Woodard – along with a fourth American named Zindell Brown – were kidnapped in Mexico, a US official familiar with the investigation told CNN. Woodard and Brown were found dead and McGee and Williams are being treated in a US hospital. 

6:52 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

US and Mexico need to dismantle cartels as a matter of national security, Texas lawmaker says

US and Mexico officials need to come up with tangible ways to stop drug cartels as a "matter of national security," Rep. Vicente Gonzalez said Tuesday.

The Democrat, whose district borders Matamoros, Mexico, where four kidnapped Americans were found, acknowledged that is it a tricky situation because the country is our second-largest trading partner. However, he said the US should be working with Mexican law enforcement and the military to take out cartels, both financially and physically.

"I think we're at a point where it's a national security concern that we need to start having conversations on Capitol Hill and with our friends and neighbors in Mexico about having critical ideas to dismantle and stop cartels across the border," Gonzalez said.

Two of the four kidnapped Americans were killed in what investigators believe was a case of mistaken identity, with a cartel thinking they were Haitian drug smugglers, according to a US official.

Gonzalez said the tragedy was not an isolated incident and that this has been happening across several regions in Mexico for two decades.

"Our neighbor's home is on fire and they need help putting it out and he [Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador] needs to make profound changes in his criminal justice system to dismantle cartels and stop this from being the norm," Gonzalez added.

6:16 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Police in Texas town across the border from Matamoros say kidnapping "should not define Mexico"

From CNN’s Gloria Pazmino and Norma Galeana   

The Brownsville Police Department in Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico –where four Americans were found after being kidnapped – said the tragic incident “should not define Mexico as a whole.” 

Matamoros is just like US cities in that it has "its bad locations and it has its good locations," Public Information Officer Martin Sandoval said.

Kidnappings do not happen frequently despite public belief, Sandoval said. The last major case the city had was in the late 1980s, he said.

The police department recommends that Americans remain in the US.

But if people do decide to cross into Mexico, Sandoval encouraged them to follow federal guidelines, which include having a full tank of gas, staying as close as possible to the port of entry, going with a group of people and having a GPS, he said.  

"There are hundreds of people that go through the bridge daily,” Sandoval said, referring to the crossing to Matamoros. And some people are more apprehensive after this kidnapping, but it’s likely that some people will continue to cross, he added.

9:23 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

2 Americans who survived kidnapping in Mexico now being treated at US hospital, FBI says

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and Andy Rose

Latavia Washington McGee, left, and Eric Williams, right.
Latavia Washington McGee, left, and Eric Williams, right. (From Facebook/From Michele Williams)

The two Americans who survived a kidnapping last week in Matamoros, Mexico, are now being treated at a hospital in the United States, the FBI said Tuesday.

"One of the surviving victims sustained serious injuries during the attack,” the bureau said in a written statement.

The Mexican government said earlier that Eric Williams was shot in the leg. The other surviving victim was identified as Latavia Washington McGee.

Two other Americans who were kidnapped in Matamoros were found dead. A US official familiar with the ongoing investigation identified them to CNN as Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown.

“This is still an ongoing criminal investigation and the FBI will continue to work with State, HSI, DEA, and other federal and international partners to determine the facts of what happened and to hold those responsible for this horrific and violent attack accountable for their crimes,” the FBI said.

CNN’s Josh Campbell contributed to this report.

4:38 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Mexican woman killed by stray bullet during kidnapping of Americans, Tamaulipas governor says

David Shortell in Mexico City

A Mexican woman was fatally shot during the kidnapping of four Americans in Tamaulipas on Friday, Governor Américo Villarreal said on Tuesday.

The woman, who was not identified, was hit by a stray bullet almost a block and a half away from where the Americans were taken, the governor of Tamaulipas said.

Authorities at first thought the woman was killed in a separate unrelated incident, he added.

4:25 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Officials won't say if person detained in Mexico kidnapping is part of a criminal organization

From CNN's David Shortell in Mexico City

Officials in Mexico would not confirm Tuesday whether the person detained in relation to the kidnapping of four Americans in Mexico is related to a criminal organization. However, the Gulf Cartel is known to operate in the region, according to Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica.

Barrios would not share the number of people authorities believed to be involved in the kidnapping.

The four Americans who went missing crossed the international bridge into Matamoros, Mexico, at 9:18 a.m. local time on Friday, governor of Tamaulipas, Américo Villarreal, said Tuesday. 

4:35 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

US State Department spokesperson calls for accountability following kidnapping

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price answers the questions of the press during the daily press briefing at the State Department in Washington D.C., on January 9.
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price answers the questions of the press during the daily press briefing at the State Department in Washington D.C., on January 9. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price called for accountability in regard to the four Americans who were kidnapped by armed gunmen in a Mexico border city on Friday, but would not go into details about what that looks like.

"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.

Price did not rule out designating drug cartels as terrorist organizations – something that some Republican lawmakers have called for. Price noted that "we are always going to look at every tool."

“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 said at a State Department briefing Tuesday. "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.”
3:22 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

US law enforcement was not on the ground in Mexico in search for missing Americans, official says

From CNN's David Shortell 

United States law enforcement was not involved on the ground in Mexico during the search for missing Americans, the governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Américo Villarreal, said. Tamaulipas is where the kidnapping took place.

Mexican officials displayed a timeline of the search for the Americans, including photos of the cars believed to be used by the kidnappers, before they were found Tuesday morning.

Mexico's Secretary of Security Rosa Icela Rodríguez said authorities in Mexico have been in constant communication with the US ambassador and other US officials since Sunday.

3:02 p.m. ET, March 7, 2023

Kidnapping survivors and deceased victims identified

From CNN’s Josh Campbell

The two Americans who authorities say were kidnapped in Mexico and found dead have been identified as Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, a US official familiar with the ongoing investigation tells CNN.

Their bodies will be examined by Mexican authorities before their remains are turned over to the US government, the source said.

The two survivors have been identified as Latavia Washington McGee and Eric Williams, according to the source. The pair was taken to a Texas hospital for treatment and observation.

The Americans’ families have been notified, the official indicated.

The Mexican government said at a press conference that Washington McGee was found uninjured and Williams suffered a bullet wound to the leg.