Two of the four U.S. citizens who were attacked and kidnapped after crossing the border into Mexico in the city of Matamoros, are believed to have been found dead, Mexican officials said Tuesday.
The group of four was targeted by mistake and were traveling to Mexico for medical purposes, authorities said.
The four U.S. citizens were a group of “tight-knit friends” who drove a white minivan from South Carolina across the border into Mexico on Friday, CNN reported. One of them, a mother of six, had intended to go through a medical procedure, two family members told CNN.
When the group crossed over, unidentified gunmen fired at their vehicle, before taking them to another car.
The border city of Matamoros is located in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and is adjacent to Brownsville, Texas.
On Tuesday, the Tamaulipas state governor said that two of them had died, and of the two that were found alive, one was injured. An innocent Mexican bystander was also killed as a result.
“The information we have is that they crossed the border to buy medicines in Mexico, there was a confrontation between groups and they were detained,” Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said.
CNN reports that a Mexican cartel likely mistook the group for Haitian drug smugglers, citing a U.S. official.
Speaking at a Tuesday press conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland blamed cartels for the death of the two Americans and vowed to prosecute cartel leaders.
“The cartels are responsible for the deaths of Americans, and we are fighting as hard as possible ..to dismantle, disrupt, and ultimately prosecute the leaders of the cartels and the entire networks they depend on.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the bodies of the two victims have been recovered and that the two other survivors have returned to the U.S.
“The task forward is to ensure that justice is done,” he said.
The U.S. State Department has previously issued a Level 4 travel warning for travel to Tamaulipas, saying that U.S. citizens have been victims of kidnapping in the area where criminal groups are said to frequently target public and private vehicles, taking passengers to demand ransom.
The FBI had announced a reward of $50,000 for the return of the victims and the arrest of those involved.