March 30, 2023

A Mexican cartel turned over five of its members and a written apology for the kidnapping and murder of American citizens. Four Americans crossed into Mexico from Brownsville, Texas last Friday. Their rented vehicle came under gunfire and they were taken by a faction of the Gulf cartel. Two of the Americans, Zindell Brown, and Shaeed Woodard, died. Eric Williams has a serious leg injury, and the lone woman, Latavia McGee. was left physically unharmed.

The Americans traveled from South Carolina, though the rented vehicle had North Carolina license plates. A fifth American remained behind in Brownsville because she did not have the proper documents to travel to Mexico. Allegedly the reason for the trip was cosmetic surgery. According to the fifth American, the unharmed woman was not going for a tummy tuck, as reported, but for a “gluteal augmentation.” That’s otherwise known as buttocks enhancement. You’re welcome.

Police spokesman Martin Sandoval confirmed it was the fifth American who notified them she was concerned about the safety of her friends.

Sandoval confirmed police had located a fifth member of the traveling party, Cheryl Orange, who stayed behind in Brownsville because she had forgotten the required travel documents. The group had driven from South Carolina to Mexico for one of the members, Latavia McGee, to undergo what was initially reported as a tummy tuck, although Orange told police it was actually for “gluteal augmentation.”

Orange first alerted authorities to concerns about their safety when she called police Saturday, the day after the other four had crossed the border. Orange told police she had last seen the group at 8 a.m. Friday, when they left a Brownsville motel for Matamoros in a rented white minivan bearing North Carolina plates.

The group planned to return to Brownsville on Saturday. That didn’t happen. Instead, they were involved in an international incident. The Scorpion faction of the Gulf cartel went rogue and ended up mistaking the Americans for drug smugglers.

In the letter, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf cartel apologized to the residents of Matamoros, a Mexican woman who was killed by a stray bullet and the four Americans and their families.

“We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline,” the letter reads, adding that those people had gone against the cartel’s rules.

The AP also obtained the photo of the men face-down on the ground and reported that they had been found tied up inside one of the vehicles authorities had been seeking, along with the letter, according to an official not authorized to speak about the case.

The two surviving Americans were returned to the U.S. and are receiving medical care. The remains of Woodard and Brown were handed over to U.S. authorities Thursday after undergoing autopsies.

I’ve never heard of a cartel turning over its members but it doesn’t surprise a former special agent of Homeland Security Investigations.

Jerry Robinette, a former special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, said he wasn’t surprised the cartel handed to Mexican authorities the five men it claims were involved in the attack.

“Many times we’ve seen the cartel will police themselves,” he said. “It’s not good for their business. They’ll clean up their own mess.”

They didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Someone applied pressure on the Gulf cartel. As far as I know, Biden hasn’t made a public statement about the story but KJP said the kidnapping and murder of Americans are “unacceptable.” Is it too much to hope that someone in the Biden administration wanted accountability for this attack? Yeah, probably. We may never know the whole story.

One relative of one of the surviving Americans said he doesn’t accept the apology.

Jerry Wallace, a cousin of Williams, told the AP the family’s happy he’s alive but does not accept the cartel’s apology.

“It ain’t going to change nothing about the suffering that we went through,” said Wallace, 62, who called for the American and Mexican governments to better address cartel violence.

The next step is for warrants to be issued for the cartel members to be extradited to the United States to face criminal charges. Federal investigators will try to determine what role they played in the shooting. An investigation will continue because it is important to go beyond who pulled the trigger.

Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official, said factions of the Gulf cartel are at war with each other in Matamoros. They make a lot of money from extortion, robberies, and other violent crime. They operate with impunity because local law enforcement is ineffective. He thinks this was a case of a robbery gone bad.

Americans need to be smarter in their travels outside of the United States. Take heed of travel warnings. This area across the border from Brownsville used to be a popular tourist destination, especially for Spring Break tourism, but for the past 10-15 years there have been travel warnings for Americans to avoid traveling there because of the warring factions of the Gulf cartel. The State Department issued a travel warning for Matamoros and surrounding areas.

There is one possibility that is being discussed among some law enforcement and that is the Americans were part of a drug smuggling operation. Their story doesn’t completely add up and they have questions. We’ll continue to monitor the story as it develops and see if any more answers are uncovered. Ms. McGee returned to South Carolina and reunited with her family Thursday night.