Watch CBS News

American who survived Mexico kidnapping says he was covered on floor of truck, hidden by dead bodies of 2 friends

New details emerge in Mexico kidnapping case
New details emerge in Mexico kidnapping deaths of 2 U.S. citizens 01:32

One of two Americans who survived a deadly abduction last month in Mexico says she watched the video of the drug cartel shootout that killed two of her close friends on one of the kidnappers' phones.

A road trip for cosmetic surgery took a fatal turn on March 3 when Latavia McGee and three friends crossed into a border town dominated by factions of the powerful Gulf drug cartel where they were fired on and loaded into a pickup truck. McGee and Eric Williams survived but Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown died. All grew up together in Lake City, South Carolina, a town of fewer than 6,000 people.

McGee and Williams discussed the experience in an interview Tuesday with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

The all-too-familiar sounds of the gunshots and commotion from the abduction rang out from someone's phone in the house where masked, gun-toting members of the cartel had taken them, McGee recalled. When she got confirmation that the video depicted her kidnapping, she asked if she could see it.

"I just started crying," McGee said of her reaction to the video. "I was like, 'I'm never going home.'"

Learning of the video's circulation made her feel "a little better," McGee said, but she still didn't know if their families had any knowledge of the events. Indeed, the events shook families across the Carolinas who said they agonized for days waiting to hear whether their loved ones had survived.

McGee and Williams shared grisly details with CNN about their days held captive in a remote region of the Gulf Coast. At one point, the two friends said the cartel tried to make them have sex.

Williams, sitting in a wheelchair with a brace on his left leg, told CNN that the cartel brought them to a clinic after questioning them at gunpoint. Williams, who had been shot in the left leg, said someone stitched his wound on a two-by-four.

McGee's despair persisted as cartel members drove them around blindfolded in trucks filled with police scanners.

"They knew what was going on. They always was a step ahead," McGee told CNN. "I was like, 'They're never going to find us like this.'"

Their fortunes changed when McGee said they awoke one night from the dark room in a remote region of the Gulf Coast. A man holding a phone light entered and said he was fighting with his boss to free them after "somebody made the wrong call," according to McGee.

Early on the morning of March 6, the two survivors said the cartel dropped the four Americans at a wood shack where officials later found them. Williams said he lay covered on the floor of a pickup truck, hidden by the dead bodies of Woodard and Brown.

The U.S. State Department's travel advisory for Tamaulipas state warns U.S. citizens not to travel there. However, being a border city, U.S. citizens who live in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross to visit family, get medical care or shop. It's also a crossing point for people traveling to other parts in Mexico.

For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the "two-nation vacation" for spring breakers flocking to Texas' South Padre Island.

But increased cartel violence over the past 10 to 15 years has frightened away much of that business. 

The state of Tamaulipas is the stronghold of the Gulf Cartel, one of the oldest and most powerful of Mexico's criminal groups. But the cartel has lost territory and influence in recent years to its rivals, according to the think tank InSight Crime.

Someone claiming to be from the cartel allegedly responsible for the abduction of four Americans and the killing of two of them condemned the violence and purportedly turned over its own members who were involved to authorities.  

The consulate in Matamoros has posted at least four security alerts since February 2020, warning of drug cartel violence, crime, kidnappings and clashes involving armed groups.  

Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas often go uncounted, because the cartels have a history of disappearing the bodies of their victims. Local media often avoid reporting on such incidents out of safety concerns.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.