Two of the four U.S. citizens kidnapped in northern Mexico have been killed
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Mexican authorities say two of the four U.S. citizens who were kidnapped in northern Mexico have been killed. Two others are alive and were moved by ambulance to Brownsville, Texas. The Americans were taken from the northern city of Matamoros on Friday, sparking a massive search effort. The group was caught in a gun battle shortly after crossing the border and subsequently kidnapped. A Mexican woman was also hit in the crossfire that day and died. NPR's Eyder Peralta is following the story from Mexico City. Hi, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: First of all, remind us how the Americans found themselves in the middle of this gunfight, and tell us about the operation to find them.
PERALTA: Yeah. Mexican authorities just gave a press conference with preliminary information. And what we know is that this group of four Americans drove across the border from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico, at 9:18 a.m. last Friday. And by 11:45 a.m., their white minivan came under fire. And that's the video that we've seen on social media. It shows the gunman throwing two bodies on the back of a pickup truck.
Authorities say the Americans were kidnapped, and they were moved around the city to try and mislead investigators. And this morning, police found them in a wooden shed - in a wooden house outside the city. They found two of the Americans dead and two alive, one of them with an injury to his left leg. Both of the survivors were taken back to the United States. And local media in Brownsville report that they are at the hospital.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about who these people are.
PERALTA: The families spoke to the Associated Press, and they say that one of the Americans who was traveling with friends was in Mexico to get a tummy tuck. And there have been a lot of speculation that they were mistaken for being Haitian migrants or that they were FBI agents. But today the attorney general of the state of Tamaulipas, Irving Barrios Mojica, said that for now it appears that the Americans were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
IRVING BARRIOS MOJICA: (Speaking Spanish).
PERALTA: He's saying that the theory that it was confusion and not a direct aggression is likely the most correct theory.
SHAPIRO: How widespread is medical tourism in Mexico? How common is it for people to cross the border to get medical procedures?
PERALTA: It's very widespread. Patients Beyond Borders, which puts out a guide for medical travel, says that travel to Mexico for medical reasons is back at pre-pandemic levels. And that means that more than 1 million Americans traveled to Mexico for elective medical treatment each year. And that was mostly for cosmetic treatments and complex dental work. Worldwide, Mexico is the second most popular medical tourism destination.
SHAPIRO: It's not uncommon for civilians to get caught up in cartel violence. What more can you tell us about the extent of the problem?
PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, by some estimates, about 80 people are murdered here every day. And a lot of them are in this type of situation - civilians getting caught in the crossfire. And I think it's worth noting that this kind of all-hands-on-deck action to find the victims of kidnappings or gun violence, the kind of action that we've seen mobilized for these Americans is extraordinary. Last year 70% of homicides went unpunished here in Mexico.
Here in Mexico City, one of the big traffic circles is called the Traffic Circle of the Disappeared. More than 100,000 Mexicans are currently missing. And families post their pictures at this rotunda. And there's protests every few months that beg the government to do something to try to find their family members or at least their bodies. So these stories - so this story of these four Americans is tragic. But they were found. Their bodies were found. And this is unfortunately not the experience of ordinary Mexicans. It's worth noting that authorities have not yet released any details about the Mexican woman who was killed on Friday.
SHAPIRO: And so how are Mexican people reacting to that apparent double standard?
PERALTA: They're pointing it out, Ari. They're saying that when Mexicans go missing, authorities do precious little.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Mexico City. Thank you for your reporting.
PERALTA: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.