Relatives of Americans abducted in Mexico said that a purported apology from the Mexican cartel blamed for the attack has done little to dull the pain of their loved ones being killed or wounded.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press through a Tamaulipas state law enforcement official, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf cartel apologized to the residents of Matamoros where the Americans were kidnapped, the Mexican woman who died in the cartel shootout, and the four Americans and their families.
But later in the day, the father of Shaeed Woodard, one of the two Americans who died, said he was speechless upon hearing that the cartel had apologized for the violent abduction captured in video which quickly spread online.
"I've just been trying to make sense out of it for a whole week. Just restless, couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. It's just crazy to see your own child taken from you in such a way, in a violent way like that. He didn't deserve it," James Woodard told reporters Thursday, referring to his son's death.
The cousin of Eric Williams, who was shot in the left leg during the kidnapping, said his family feels "great" knowing he's alive but does not accept any apologies from the cartel.
"It ain't gonna change nothing about the suffering that we went through," Jerry Wallace told the AP on Thursday. Wallace, 62, called for the American and Mexican governments to better address cartel violence.
U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar told reporters Friday that U.S. officials had contacted President Andrés Manuel López Obrador directly over the weekend to ask for help in locating the missing Americans in Matamoros. He said the cartel there "must be dismantled."
The letter attributed to the cartel condemned last week's violence and said the gang turned over to authorities its own members who were responsible.
"We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline," the letter reads, adding that those individuals had gone against the cartel's rules, which include "respecting the life and well-being of the innocent."
Drug cartels have been known to issue communiques to intimidate rivals and authorities, but also at times like these as public relations work to try to smooth over situations that could affect their business. And last Friday's violence in Matamoros was bad for cartel business.
The Americans' killings brought National Guard troops and an Army special forces outfit running patrols that "heat up the plaza" in narco terminology, Mexican security analyst David Saucedo said.
"It is very difficult right now for them to continue working in terms of street-level drug sales and transferring drugs to the United States; they are the first ones interested in closing this chapter as soon as possible," Saucedo said.
A photograph of five bound men face-down on the pavement accompanied the letter, which was shared with The Associated Press by the official on condition that they remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share the document.
A separate state security official said that five men had been found tied up inside one of the vehicles that authorities had been searching for, along with the letter. That official also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case.
On Friday, Tamaulipas state prosecutor Irving Barrios said via Twitter that five people related to the violence had been arrested on charges of aggravated kidnapping and homicide. He said only one other person had been arrested in recent days.
Last Friday, the four Americans crossed into Matamoros from Texas so that one of them could have cosmetic surgery. About midday, they were fired on in downtown Matamoros and then loaded into a pickup truck. A Mexican woman, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed, apparently by a stray bullet.
Another friend, who remained in Brownsville, called police after being unable to reach the group that crossed the border Friday morning. Authorities located them Tuesday morning on the outskirts of the city, guarded by a man who was arrested. Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard died in the attack; Williams and Latavia McGee survived.
On Thursday, two hearses carrying the bodies of Woodard and Brown crossed the international bridge to Brownsville, where the remains were handed over to U.S. authorities.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas.