UNITED STATES

Four US citizens, missing in Mexico were targeted by mistake

Mar 6, 2023, 10:38 AM | Updated: 10:39 am

Authorities believe the group of Americans assaulted and kidnapped in Matamoros, Mexico, Friday wer...

FILE: Members of the National Guard wait for members of the General Attorney¨s Office to leave in a caravan with relatives of disappeared persons to a property called "La Bartolina" in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico on August 24, 2021. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images via CNN)

(ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images via CNN)

Originally Published: 06 MAR 23 02:03 ET
Updated: 06 MAR 23 11:35 ET

Authorities believe the group of Americans assaulted and kidnapped in Matamoros, Mexico, Friday were targeted by mistake and were not the intended victims in the attack, a US official with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN.

At this preliminary point in the investigation, it is not believed that the American citizens were in Mexico for criminal purposes, the source indicated.

Utah woman grew up in La Mora, Mexico. Now, her family is fleeing

Photos obtained by CNN show the car believed to have been driven by the Americans crashed with another vehicle before they were taken at gunpoint from the scene.

The FBI would not confirm the authenticity of the images, but CNN has confirmed the authenticity of the photos and video with a US official with knowledge of the investigation and has also geolocated the images.

Four US citizens who crossed in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates were abducted on Friday shortly after crossing into Matamoros, Mexico, CNN previously reported.

The photos obtained by CNN show a woman looking and then sitting next to three bodies outside a white minivan. All the doors of the van were open.

The woman then appears to have been loaded onto the bed of a white pickup truck, the photos show. Several bodies could be seen on the street next to the pickup truck, the photos show.

One photo shows that an ambulance arrived, but it’s unclear if medical attention was being provided.

The FBI is investigating and has announced a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of those involved.

[Original story, published at 10:18 a.m. ET]

Soon after the US citizens drove into the border city of Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday, they were fired upon by unidentified gunmen, a release from the FBI in San Antonio said. The agency did not identify the victims.

“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” the release said.

The US citizens were driving a white minivan with North Carolina license plates, according to the FBI.

The FBI is seeking the public’s help in locating the Americans and identifying those responsible for the kidnapping. The agency announced a reward of $50,000 for the return of the victims and the arrest of those involved.

The FBI said it is cooperating with other federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies to investigate the kidnapping.

CNN has reached out to the FBI for further information on the victims and has also sought comment from the government of Tamaulipas, the Tamaulipas Secretary of Public Security’s office and the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.

Matamoros, a border city of more than 500,000 people in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just across from Brownsville, Texas, has been wracked by violence and organized crime at least since the Mexican Drug War began in 2006. The city is home to the Gulf Cartel, a once-powerful smuggling operation that has splintered into small, competing gangs, according to the Congressional Research Service.

On the same day as the alleged kidnappings, for example, police issued a warning to parents to keep their kids home from school due to two shootings in the city.

The US State Department has issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for US citizens thinking of going to Tamaulipas, citing crime and kidnapping.

“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” the State Department advisory says.

Matamoros was also the site of a large tent encampment of migrants — mostly Venezuelans and Haitians — hoping to cross into the US to request asylum.

Anyone with information related to the incident is encouraged to call the FBI San Antonio Division or submit a tip online.

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Four US citizens, missing in Mexico were targeted by mistake