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Letter Claims Cartel Turned In Men Who Killed Americans

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico — A letter purporting to be from the Mexican drug cartel accused of kidnapping four Americans and killing two of them condemned the violence and said the gang had turned over its own responsible members to authorities.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press through a Tamaulipas state law enforcement official, the Gulf Cartel’s Scorpions faction apologized to residents of Matamoros where the Americans were kidnapped, the Mexican woman who died in the cartel shootout, and the four Americans and their families.

“We have decided to remove those who were directly involved in and responsible for the events, who at all times acted under their own decision and lack of discipline,” the letter said, adding that these individuals violated cartel rules, which include “respect for the life and well-being of the innocent”.

Drug cartels have been known to issue statements to intimidate rivals and authorities, but also at times like these as public relations work to try to iron out situations that may affect their business. And last Friday’s violence in Matamoros was bad for cartel business.

The killings of the Americans brought in National Guard troops and an Army Special Forces team performing patrols that “heat the place” in narco terminology, Mexican security analyst David Saucedo said.

“It is very difficult for them right now to continue to work in terms of selling drugs on the streets and transferring drugs to the United States; they are the first interested in closing this chapter as soon as possible,” Saucedo said.

A photograph of five men tied up face down on the sidewalk accompanied the letter, which was shared with The Associated Press by the official on the condition that they remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share the document.

State officials did not immediately publicly confirm the detention of any new suspects.

Another state security official said five men were found tied up inside one of the vehicles authorities were looking for, along with the letter. This official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case.

Cousin of one of the victims says his family feels ‘good’ knowing Eric Williams, who was shot in the left leg, is alive but accepts no apologies from the cartel accused of kidnapping Americans.

“It’s not going to change the pain that we’ve been through,” Jerry Wallace told the AP on Thursday. Wallace, 62, called on the US and Mexican governments to do more to combat cartel violence.

Last Friday, the four Americans went to Matamoros from Texas so that one of them could undergo cosmetic surgery. Around noon, they came under fire in downtown Matamoros, then were loaded into a van. A Mexican, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed, apparently by a stray bullet.

Another friend, who remained in Brownsville, called the police after he was unable to reach the group that crossed the border on Friday morning.

Brownsville Police Department spokesman Martin Sandoval said Thursday that officers followed protocol in checking local hospitals and jails after receiving the missing persons report. A detective was assigned to the case within the hour, then alerted the FBI after realizing the people had entered Mexico. Shortly after, the FBI took over the case as videos on social media began showing a shooting with the victims matching the description of the missing persons.

Authorities located them Tuesday morning on the outskirts of town, guarded by a man who was arrested. Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard died in the attack; Williams and Latavia McGee survived.

On Thursday, two hearses carrying the bodies of Woodard and Brown crossed the international bridge to Brownsville, where the remains were handed over to US authorities.

Woodard’s cousin, McGee, had surprised him with the fatal road trip as a birthday getaway, according to his father, James Woodard. He said he was speechless when he learned the cartel had apologized for the violent kidnapping that killed his son and was captured in footage that quickly spread online.

“Just being helpless – not being able to do anything, not being able to go out there and just save them – it’s really painful,” said James Woodard.

Thursday’s letter was not an unprecedented cartel tactic.

Cartel community relations efforts are well known in Mexico. In contested territory, a cartel might hang banners around a town blaming a rival for recent violence and setting itself apart as the gang that doesn’t mess with civilians.

Last November, such banners appeared in the state of Guanajuato, allegedly written by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which accused a rival of a series of murders in bars and other businesses.

In other situations, the message is more direct: bodies are left inside a vehicle with a note or hanging from an overpass on a busy road. The motivation is terror.

More subtly, the cartels use their power to plant stories in the local press or prevent stories from appearing. Their members are active on social networks.

Their underlying interest is to facilitate their business, be it drug and migrant smuggling or extortion.

Sometimes a cartel attacks their rival’s territory in hopes of triggering a law enforcement response to make business difficult for their opponents. This is what seemed to be happening two years ago in Reynosa, just on the border of Matamoros. Gunmen entered town shooting and killed 14 innocent bystanders.

The handing over of suspected cartel suspects to the police is also not unprecedented. Saucedo warned that a cartel leader may have authorized the attack, then regretted it and decided to offer sacrificial lambs to the police.

In 2008, Michoacan drug traffickers threw hand grenades at a crowd celebrating Mexican independence, killing eight people. Days later, authorities arrested three suspects, but it turns out they had been abducted by a cartel, beaten to extract a confession implicating a rival group, and handed over to police.

Meanwhile, the Tamaulipas state attorney’s office said Thursday it seized an ambulance and medical clinic in Matamoros that was allegedly used to treat Americans after the shooting.

The Americans told investigators they were taken to the clinic in an ambulance to receive first aid, the statement said. By reviewing police surveillance video across the city, authorities were able to identify the ambulance and find the clinic. No arrests were made at the clinic, the statement said.


Stevenson reported from Mexico City and Pollard from Lake City, South Carolina. Associated Press writer Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Associated Press video reporter Hilary Powell in Lake City, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

ABC News

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