The American’s fun road trip to Mexico turned into days of terror. WGN Radio 720

LAKE CITY, South Carolina (AP) — What was supposed to be a fun road trip to Mexico and a post-pandemic adventure for a group of childhood friends.

One had cosmetic surgery after having six children. It was another 34th birthday celebration.

They rented a white van in South Carolina, shot a silly video, and set off on a journey of about 22 hours, driving to Brownsville on the tip of Texas.

“Good morning, America!” Eric Williams said to the camera early in the morning after an all-night drive. “Mexico, here we come.”

However, once they arrived in Mexico, the journey took a turn for the worse. A tied drug cartel and a city of 500,000 people. powerful cartel.

There’s nothing worse than a border town to choose for a fun adventure.

It all started in 2021 when LaTavia McGee booked her former doctor for cosmetic surgery. Dr. Roberto Chavez Medina’s ads on Facebook and her TikTok have a strong following among American women.

This is a common story. People often leave the United States for all kinds of medical treatment. Costs in Mexico can be less than half what you would pay in the US.

McGee’s appointment came within days of his cousin Shaeed Woodard’s 34th birthday. Friends Jindel Brown and Sheryl Orange rounded out his group of five. Most of them grew up together in Lake City, South Carolina, a town of fewer than 6,000 people.

Once at the border, they rented a Motel 6 room off the highway in Brownsville. It’s a green town with high poverty rates along the Rio Grande and parrots chirping from palm trees.

Our friends set off early Friday morning to cross the international bridge that straddles our two countries. Orange stayed at a Brownsville motel because he forgot his ID to cross his border.

“They went to drop her off and were supposed to be back within 15 minutes,” Orange said.

However, the clinic had moved to a new location a few blocks away.

What happened next is not clear. Perhaps the group got lost. The Mexican state of Tamaulipas has been warned by the U.S. State Department to avoid traveling because of violent crimes and kidnappings, but friends may not have known — Williams’ mother said her son had left the United States. She said she didn’t think she would.

Hours passed, and on the U.S. side of the border, Orange contacted the Brownsville Police Department, worried that something bad had happened.

Her worst fears will come true.

Around noon, just a few miles across the border, a car crashed into the group’s van. According to Mexican police reports, several men with tactical vests and assault rifles arrived in another vehicle and surrounded them.

Brown and Woodard were shot and killed instantly. Williams was shot in the leg.

Videos on social media showed the men forcing Maggie into the back of a pickup truck and dragging the bodies of the injured Williams and two friends across the road into the truck. One witness said no one wanted the attention of the shooter.

The truck sped off. Aleli Pablo Servando, a 33-year-old Mexican woman who was hit by a stray bullet, died in the street.

When Mexican authorities arrived on the scene, they found a bullet hole in the driver’s side window and a Social Security card and a group of friends’ credit cards inside the van. The U.S. Consulate is just a few blocks away and has issued a warning warning employees to avoid the area until further notice due to the deadly shootings in the inner city.

A doctor at the clinic later told investigators he thought it strange that his patient hadn’t shown up for surgery.

The crash will mark the beginning of the most terrifying days of the lives of our surviving friends.

Cartel members stopped shortly after the shooting at the medical clinic and drove them from place to place around the city in a harrowing vehicle.

A doctor told investigators that two men with assault rifles entered through the back door and threatened to kill staff if the injured were not treated. According to Mexican investigative documents seen by the Associated Press, the militants and their hostages stayed at the clinic for three hours before leaving.

Orange is stranded and worried on the other side of the border in a Motel 6 with no idea what happened. On Saturday morning, she spoke with Brownsville cops at a motel. Within an hour, detectives were assigned to the case, and soon after, the Brownsville Police turned the case over to her FBI.

On Sunday, the FBI reported their disappearance and offered a $50,000 reward for their return and the arrest of their kidnappers. He said he contacted President Obrador directly to ask for help in finding the missing American.

After returning home, their family and friends in the United States watched in horror the video in which they were captured and prayed. The wait, the silence became unbearable.

Zindel Brown’s older sister, Zalandria Brown, said Monday night, “I just want them to go home. ‘Dead or alive, take me home.'”

Williams’ cousin Jerry Wallace could neither eat nor sleep.

“It’s really just waiting and listening to what’s going on and trying not to hear anything,” Wallace said.

The next day, the pain of not knowing was over, but the news made my heart hurt even more.

An anonymous informant reported seeing an armed man and blindfolded people in a dilapidated orange shack with blue trim and a corrugated metal roof in the small rural community known as Ejido Tecorote, outside Matamoros. Did. A white pickup truck parked outside matched the one the Americans loaded on March 3, according to Mexican investigative documents.

The hut was near Playa Baghdad, or ‘Baghdad Beach’. This is a secluded sandy beach where the Rio Grande River meets the Gulf of Mexico and has been known as a drop-off point for contraband bound for the United States since the Civil War.

Following the lead, Mexican authorities searched the dirt roads. Then I heard a cry and the words “Help!” That led them to a hut, where they found Maggie and Williams, blindfolded.

A 24-year-old man in a tactical vest who was protecting them burst out the back door and was quickly arrested.

The two Americans were taken to a Brownsville hospital.

Eric’s brother, Robert Williams, couldn’t wait to tell him, “How happy he is that he’s successful and loves him.”

The bodies of two friends were returned to the United States in a hearse on Thursday, prompting calls for action to crush the Gulf Cartel. The letter was obtained by AP through law enforcement officers in Tamaulipas.

Woodard’s father said he was speechless.

“I’ve been trying to figure it out all week. Just restless, can’t sleep, can’t eat. I don’t want my child to be taken from you in such a way, in such a violent way.” It’s just insane to watch,” James Woodard told reporters. “He didn’t deserve it.”

Orange is also perfect. She said in an audio text to her AP reporter on Friday that she and her friends who survived the attack were not ready to talk about their ill-fated trip.

“We just want to start recovering,” she said.


Watson reported from San Diego and Peña from Ciudad Victoria. Pollard is a Corps member of the Associated Press/Reports for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover hidden issues. The American’s fun road trip to Mexico turned into days of terror. WGN Radio 720

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