Deadly Mexico kidnapping hits home in South Carolina

LAKE CITY, S.C. (AP) – Americans who officials said got caught in a deadly drug cartel shootout in Mexico last week all had ties to a small town in South Carolina, where leaders have called for community support of the families and two captives returned to U.S. soil Tuesday.

Elected officials and religious figures rallied the community in Lake City, a town of less than 6,000 residents in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, where relatives say the incredibly close group of four grew up. Mayor Yamekia Robinson sent her “deepest sympathy” to each family.

“We ask each of you, your friends, your family, your churches, and your communities across the nation to keep us all lifted in your thoughts & prayers as we the City of Lake City and the families grieve the loss and get through this tragic incident together,” Robinson said Wednesday in a statement to the town.

In neighboring Scranton, a pastor announced a prayer vigil for Wednesday evening.

The two survivors are in a Texas hospital. Officials reported Zindell Brown among the two dead.

Family members said they agonized for days while waiting to learn whether their loved ones had survived a road trip to a Mexican border city for a cosmetic surgery.

A GoFundMe set up by Brown’s family said his relatives hope the “loving son, brother, uncle and friend” gets the “goodbye that he deserves.”

The group’s minivan crashed and was fired on shortly after they crossed into Matamoros on Friday as drug cartel factions tore through the streets, the region’s governor said. A stray bullet also killed a Mexican woman about a block and a half away.

The four Americans were hauled off in a pickup truck, and Mexican authorities frantically searched as the cartel moved them around – even taking them to a medical clinic – “to create confusion and avoid efforts to rescue them,” Tamaulipas Gov. Américo Villarreal said.

They were found Tuesday in a wooden shack, guarded by a man who was arrested, in the rural Ejido Tecolote area east of Matamoros on the way to part of the Gulf called “Bagdad Beach,” according to the state’s chief prosecutor, Irving Barrios.

James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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