Apology letter found after US citizens killed in Mexico
CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico — A letter claiming 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 to authorities its own members who were responsible.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press through a law enforcement source in the state of Tamaulipas, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf cartel apologized to residents of Matamoros, where the Americans were kidnapped, to the Mexican woman who died in the cartel shootout, and to the four Americans and their families.
“We have decided to hand over those who were directly involved and responsible for the events, who at all times acted in the absence of their own decisions and discipline,” the letter said, adding that these individuals were in violation of the cartel’s rules. which include “respect for the life and well-being of the innocent”.
Drug cartels are known to issue statements to intimidate rivals and authorities, but they also do PR work to try to smooth over situations that might affect their business. Last Friday’s violence in Matamoros was bad for the cartel case.
David Saucedo, a Mexican security analyst, said the killings of the Americans had led to patrols by National Guard troops and special forces from the army, which were “warming up the space” with drug use.
“Right now, it’s very difficult for them to continue working on street drug sales and drug delivery into the United States; they are the first ones interested in closing this chapter as soon as possible,” Saucedo said.
The letter was accompanied by a photo of five bound men face down on the sidewalk, which the source shared with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the document.
State officials did not immediately publicly confirm that new suspects were in custody.
Another state security official said five men were found tied up in one of the vehicles that authorities were looking for, along with the letter. That official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the incident.
A cousin of one of the victims said his family is “relieved” to know Eric Williams, who was shot in the left leg, is alive, but won’t accept an apology from the cartel accused of kidnapping Americans.
“It’s not going to change anything about the suffering we’ve been through,” Jerry Wallace told The Associated Press on Thursday. Wallace, 62, called on the US and Mexican governments to do more to address cartel violence.
Last Friday, the four Americans crossed into Matamoros from Texas so that one of them could undergo cosmetic surgery. Around noon, they were shot in downtown Matamoros and then put in a truck. A Mexican woman, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed, possibly by a stray bullet.
Another friend, who remained in Brownsville, called police after she was unable to reach the group crossing the border Friday morning.
Martin Sandoval, a spokesman for the Brownsville Police Department, said Thursday that officers checked local hospitals and jails as per protocol after receiving a missing persons report. Within an hour, an investigator was assigned to the case, and the FBI was alerted after noticing that the people had crossed into Mexico. Soon after, the FBI took over the case as social media videos showed a shootout with victims matching the description of the missing people.
The authorities found them on the outskirts of the city on Tuesday morning, guarded by a man who was arrested. Two of the Americans were killed, one wounded, the other unharmed.
Thursday’s letter was not an unheard-of cartel tactic.
The cartels’ community relations efforts are well known in Mexico. In the disputed territory, one cartel may hang banners around a city blaming a rival for recent violence and portraying itself as a gang that doesn’t mess with civilians.
Last November, such banners appeared around the state of Guanajuato, allegedly written by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, blaming a rival for a spate of killings in bars and other businesses.
In other situations, the message is more blunt: dead bodies are left in the vehicle with a note or dangling from a freeway overpass on a busy road. The motivation is terror.
More subtly, cartels use their power to plant stories in the local press or prevent stories from appearing. Their members are active on social media.
Their ulterior motive is to promote their business, be it drug and migrant smuggling or extortion.
Sometimes a cartel will blow up a rival’s territory in hopes of triggering a law enforcement response to make it harder for its opponents to do business. That seemed to be the case two years ago in Reynosa, just over the border from Matamoros. Gunmen drove into the city, shooting and killing 14 innocent bystanders.
The handover of alleged cartel suspects to the police is also unprecedented. Saucedo warned that a cartel leader authorized the attack, then repented and decided to offer sacrificial lambs to the police.
In 2008, drug traffickers in Michoacan lobbed hand grenades into a crowd celebrating Mexico’s independence, killing eight people. Days later, the authorities arrested three suspects, but it turned out that they had been kidnapped by a cartel, forced to confess and handed over to the police.
Meanwhile, the Tamaulipas state attorney’s office said Thursday it had seized an ambulance and a health clinic in Matamoros that were allegedly used to treat the Americans after the shooting.
The Americans told investigators they were taken to the clinic by ambulance to provide first aid, the statement said. By reviewing police surveillance video from around town, authorities were able to identify the ambulance and locate the clinic. According to the statement, no arrests were made at the clinic.
AP writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas and James Pollard in Lake City, South Carolina contributed to this report.