A soldier guards outside the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Tamaulipas ahead of the transfer of the bodies of two of four Americans kidnapped by gunmen to the U.S. border, in Matamoros, Mexico, March 8, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
By Dave Graham and Julia Harte
MEXICO CITY/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Mexican law enforcement agents are investigating the possibility that members of a drug cartel kidnapped four Americans last Friday thinking that they were encroaching on their turf, according to an internal government document seen by Reuters.
Two of the Americans, identified by Mexican officials as Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, were found dead on Monday in a wood cabin southeast of Matamoros, the border city in the state of Tamaulipas where the four were abducted on Friday.
Alongside them were their surviving companions, identified as Latavia McGee and Eric James Williams.
Mexican officials, who say they are pursuing various lines of inquiry, drew up a brief document summarizing the abduction of the Americans and biographical information on them. The metadata of the digital document suggested it was created on Wednesday.
It included their names, birthdays and addresses, and details of criminal records. Among them were convictions for drug-related offenses against Brown and Woodard.
In view of the prior convictions, “it cannot be ruled out that the attack against (the Americans) could be directly linked to drug trafficking operations,” which their assailants believed the Americans could be carrying out, the document said.
Reuters left voicemails and sent messages on social media to people identified by public records as relatives of the four, as well as at a number for Williams, but without response.
A Reuters review of South Carolina state records found that Woodard was convicted five times between 2007 and 2016 of drug crimes. Nearly all were minor offenses, but they included one of manufacturing banned narcotics with the intent to distribute.
Brown was convicted twice in 2015 for possessing small amounts of marijuana or concentrated cannabis, records show.
The records also showed that Williams was in 2017 convicted for the manufacture and distribution of cocaine, though this was not mentioned in the Mexican document seen by Reuters.
Americo Villarreal, governor of Tamaulipas, said during a news conference on Monday that the group had gone to Matamoros because McGee was planning to have some cosmetic surgery done, citing testimony from their relatives and U.S. officials.
Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios told the same news conference the four were likely mistaken for somebody else, while stressing that other lines of investigation remained open.
Reuters could not ascertain how a drug gang might have known Americans with drug convictions were arriving in Matamoros.
It is also not clear if Mexican authorities have other evidence that might point to a drug-related motive for the abduction, which occurred in broad daylight.
The document seen by Reuters stated that a faction of the Gulf Cartel had an “iron grip” on illegal activities in the area, and pointed to members of the group as likely perpetrators of the kidnapping on the basis of intelligence gathered.
Mexico’s security ministry did not reply to requests for comment about the document. The Tamaulipas attorney general’s office said it did not have evidence to confirm or reject the information. The FBI declined to comment.
Tamaulipas attorney general Barrios said on Monday that Mexico’s Gulf Cartel is known to operate in the area but did not explicitly blame it for the kidnapping.
The four Americans passed through Brownsville, Texas, on their way into Mexico last week. A concerned friend of McGee’s told Brownsville police on Saturday that she had not heard from the group since Friday morning, and “would not be surprised if her friends got arrested because they are known to party and use narcotics”, according to the police report.
Mexican officials have not yet specified the cause of death of Brown and Woodard. Their bodies are due to be returned to the United States from Mexico very soon.