BROWNSVILLE – Two Americans who were kidnapped by cartel members shortly after crossing into Mexico from Brownsville last month are speaking out for the first time.
LaTavia Washington McGee and Eric Williams spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday and shared harrowing details about their abduction, which led to the deaths of two friends.
McGee, Williams, Shaeed Woodard, and Zindell Brown set out from their home in South Carolina to the border for a medical appointment for McGee. Another friend, Cheryl Orange, rounded out the group of five but she stayed at their Brownsville hotel because she forgot her ID.
The four crossed into Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on March 2 and were shortly intercepted by cartel members. A vehicle crashed into the group’s white van, and several men with tactical vests surrounded them and fired shots.
Woodard, Brown and Williams were shot, and cartel members abducted the group. Woodard and Brown later died from their injuries.
Williams said they were then taken to a location where they were interrogated.
“That’s where Shaeed said, ‘I love y’all, and I’m gone.’ And he died right there,” Williams said. McGee recalled that she told him she was “sorry.”
Cartel members drove them to various places throughout the ordeal, McGee and Williams said.
At one point, Williams said they took him to a clinic so he could get stitched for his gunshot wound.
During their captivity, the assailants wore “diablo masks,” pointed guns at them and told them “not to look up.”
Cartel members also told Williams and McGee to have sex with each other, but they told them they were brother and sister and that she was pregnant. Their actual relationship is unknown.
McGee said she noticed that one of their captors was watching a video of their abduction, which was widely circulated in the U.S.
“I just started crying. I’m like, I’m never going home” she said, adding that she believed only people in Mexico knew about the kidnappings.
They said they were placed in various rooms along with the bodies of Woodard and Brown and other people who were being held captive.
They received their hope when a man woke them up at night and said he was trying to get them help.
“He was like, ‘There’s nothing that we can do to bring your two brothers back. But we’re sorry. Somebody made the wrong call. They was high and drunk,’” McGee said.
Later, they were blindfolded and put in a truck, with the bodies of Woodard and Brown placed on top of them.
Cartel members drove them all night, they said, evading cartel bosses and authorities, as they had police scanners.
“They had police scanners and all types of stuff in their trucks. They knew what was going on. They were always a step ahead. So I was like, they’re never gonna find us like this,” McGee said.
They were eventually dropped off at the shack where they were found on March 7.
Since then, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf cartel has apologized to the residents of Matamoros, the victims and their families. A Mexican woman, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed during the shootout.
At least six people have been arrested in connection with the case.