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Surviving the Drug Cartel

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LaTavia McGee Washington and Eric Williams Give Details of Being Kidnapped by The Mexico Drug Cartel

A road trip to Mexico turned into a horrific nightmare for four friends, LaTavia Washington McGee, Eric Williams, Shaeed Woodard, and Zindell Brown, on March 3, 2023. Eric, Shaeed, and Zindell were escorting LaTavia to Mexico for a medical procedure. Shortly after entering the City of Matamoros, their white minivan came under heavy fire. This ambush was carried out by the Gulf Drug Cartel, known to fight among different factions in the city. The cartel mistook the group of friends to be Haitian drug smugglers. Speaking about the incident for the first time with CNN, LaTavia McGee Washington and Eric Williams give a recount of what they went through.

"Once they began shooting, Shaeed and Zindell jumped out the van and began running, but was gunned down," says Eric Williams, one of the two surviving victims. Williams details the attack, "They began pounding on LaTavia's window with a nine-millimeter gun. That's when I jumped out the driver's side door and was shot in both legs."

LaTavia McGee was pulled from the van at gunpoint and forced into the back of a pickup truck. Zindell Brown, Shaeed Woodard, and Eric Williams's limp bodies were dragged and thrown into the back of the pickup truck with McGee. LaTavia and Eric say that both Shaeed and Zindell were alive when they were put in the bed of the pickup truck. “I couldn't see Saheed because he was behind me,” Eric says. “But I could see Zindell's back, and two big chunks of meat were gone." LaTavia, holding back her tears, says she told Shaeed that she was sorry and loved him as he lay in the back of the truck dying from his gunshot wounds.

Zindell, Eric, and Latavia were transported to a house and underwent intense interrogations by men in red Diablo masks and guns. Eric remembers being blindfolded and moved to various locations while being captive. "They put guns to our heads and yelled at us not to look at them," Eric says he was taken to a clinic and treated for the gunshot wounds to his legs. "They placed my leg on a piece of wood and stitched it up. No pain medicine or anything. They didn't check to see if the bullet was still inside my legs. They just stitched it up, and by the end of the day, the stitches had busted out," Eric said.

LaTavia says she was thrown into a dark room with Zindell who was suffering from life-threating gunshot wounds. "He was in this room, lying on the floor fighting for his life," LaTavia says. "They didn't do anything to help him. I told him I was sorry for asking him to come with me. He was like, 'It's okay. I'm your brother. I'm supposed to be there for you. I love you." LaTavia says that the kidnappers told her they would transport Zindell to the hospital. But when the masked men returned to do so, Zindell was dead.

At one point during the nightmare events, LaTavia says the kidnappers had shown her the video that was recorded by a bystander and shared on social media of her, and her three friends being attacked by the gunman. "One of the gunmen was looking at something on his phone," says McGee. I remembered the sound of the gunfire and asked him if that was us. He said yes. Then he showed me the video of us getting kidnapped. I thought the video was only out in Mexico. I didn't know that it had reached the States.”

LaTavia McGee Washington and Eric Williams

However, the attack had gone quickly gone viral causing outrage across social media with many users demanding that U.S. officials rescue the Americans from the cartel by any means necessary. In response to the abduction of LaTavia and her friends, the FBI offered a $50,000 award for the return of the victims and the arrest of the attackers.

LaTavia says seeing the video of them being gunned down and forced into the back of the truck added more misery to the dire situation. "I just started crying. I didn't think we would ever make it home," she said.

As Eric and LaTavia were held captive in a dark room, a light shined upon their faces.  LaTavia says a man stood over the two surviving friends shining a flashlight.  She says the man apologize, “He told us that it was nothing he could do to bring their two brothers back,” LaTavia says. He told us the men that had kidnapped us were high and drunk and made the wrong call and was going to help them get free.

According to Eric, LaTavia and himself were blindfolded and placed inside a vehicle, then driven to another location. Eric adds that the dead bodies of their friends, Zindell and Saheed, were thrown on top of him to keep him hidden as the assailants drove around throughout the night, trying to avoid being captured by the police. "They had police scanners and knew exactly what was going on," LaTavia says. "They were always one step ahead. I didn't think they were ever going to find us."
Finally, LaTavia Williams McGee Washington, Eric Williams, and the bodies of Zindell Brown and Saheed Woodard were dropped off at a wooden shack. On March 7, the two survivors were rescued by Mexico authorities and transported back into the United States along with their deceased friends.

Allegedly five members of the group handed over to the Mexico authorities and an apology letter was issued by the Gulf Cartel. Investigators believe the apology letter to be authentic, but Mexican and U.S. officials doubt the sincerity of the group's apology.

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