Two of four Black Americans from South Carolina kidnapped in Mexico are dead and two are still missing but alive, Tamaulipas State Gov. Américo Villarreal Anaya said in a phone call with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that was played at a press conference Tuesday.
One of the survivors is wounded and another is alive and apparently unharmed, New York Post reported Tuesday.
Latavia “Tay” Washington McGee, 33, a mother of six, drove to Mexico with three friends from South Carolina so she could undergo a medical procedure across the border but she never made it to her doctor’s appointment, her mother Barbara Burgess, told CNN.
She was reportedly scheduled for a tummy tuck surgery on the day of the kidnapping. The abduction highlights the growing business of medical tourism and the ongoing violence plaguing some Mexican cities.
The four were kidnapped in Mexico Friday in Matamoros, a city in the state of Tamaulipas, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. They were the likely target of a Mexican cartel and thought to be Haitian drug smugglers in a case of mistaken identity, a U.S. official familiar with the ongoing investigation told CNN.
The North Carolina Beat identified the four kidnapped U.S. citizens as 32-year-old Latavia Washington, 28-year-old Zindell Brown, 33-year-old Shaeed Woodard, and Eric “Wise” Williams, according to The NC Beat.
The four missing Americans grew up together in South Carolina and were bonded “like glue,” Brown’s sister Zalandria Brown told CNN. “Zindell is like my shadow, he’s like my son, he’s like my hip bone. We’re just tight like that,” she said.
On Monday, a source close to the Washington family told The NC Beat that Washington had been communicating with someone online who she thought was a doctor.
Citing crime and kidnapping, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory against U.S. citizens traveling to Tamaulipas.
Mexican authorities are still searching for the missing Americans, who were shot at by unidentified gunmen, “placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” according to the FBI.
The FBI is asking the public for help in finding the missing Americans and identifying anyone involved in the kidnapping, offering a $50,000 reward for their return and the arrest of those responsible.
An innocent Mexican bystander was also killed in the encounter, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said.
The kidnapping happened in daylight and someone videotaped it, Washington’s aunt, Mary McFadden, told CNN. “We don’t know if she is dead or alive. The last picture we saw, she was walking alive. She is a mother and we need her to come back here for her kids,” she said. Washington’s children range in age from 6 to 18.
The missing Americans were driving a white minivan with North Carolina plates, according to the FBI in San Antonio.
When the family hadn’t heard from them by Sunday, they began searching online for any news related to the travel destination. Then they saw a video McFadden described as showing her niece being kidnapped.
A video obtained by CNN shows the car they are believed to be driving involved in a crash with another vehicle before they were kidnapped at gunpoint. A woman and other unidentified people are shown being roughly loaded into a white pickup truck by two unidentified people as a third armed man watches. The three men then appear to drag at least two limp people onto the truck bed, the video shows.
Americans trying to avoid the high cost of U.S. health care are lured by multiple Mexican medical tourism websites promising “safe” medical procedures just across the border at savings of up to 70 percent with a vacation thrown in.