Mexico police questioned in killing of 3 Americans

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US Teens Killed in Mexico
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Mexico police questioned in killing of 3 Americans
This two photo combo with undated handout photos provided by Nohemi Gonzalez, shows Erica Maria Alvarado Rivera, left, and her brother Alex, right, at their mother's home in Progreso, Texas. According to witnesses armed men took Erica Maria, 26, and her brothers, Alex, 22, and Jose Angel, 21, on Oct. 13 in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros. The three were visiting their father in Mexico and they have not been seen since. (AP Photo)
This undated handout photo provided by Nohemi Gonzalez, shows Alex Alvarado Rivera at his mother's home in Progreso, Texas. According to witnesses armed men took Alex Alvarado Rivera, 22, and her brother Jose Angel, 21, and sister Erica Maria, 26, on Oct. 13 in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros. The three were visiting their father in Mexico and they have not been seen since. (AP Photo)
This undated handout photo provided by Nohemi Gonzalez, shows Erica Maria Alvarado Rivera at her mother's home in Progreso, Texas. According to witnesses armed men took Erica Maria Alvarado Rivera, 26, and her brothers, Alex, 22, and Jose Angel, 21, on Oct. 13 in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros. The three were visiting their father in Mexico and they have not been seen since. (AP Photo)
A masked man belonging to a community police force patrols the area near the Raul Isidro Burgos de Ayotzinapa Teachers College in the town of Tixtla, Mexico, late Sunday Oct. 12, 2014. The community police is securing the area around the school and is also helping in the search for the 43 students that went missing after a confrontation with local police that left 6 dead. The missing students have not been found, though 26 local police officers have been detained, and officials are attempting to determine if any of newly discovered mass graves contain the bodies of the students. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)
A woman walks in front of images of the 43 college rural students that remain missing, strung on the front gate of the Mexican attorney general's office in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Forensic experts combed a gully in southern Mexico on Tuesday for the remains of 43 missing students, as frustration mounted among relatives of both the disappeared and the detained for the lack of answers more than a month into the investigation. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
A convoy of vehicles drive towards a site where investigators were searching for human remains, in the densely forested mountains outside Cocula, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. Suspects arrested this week told prosecutors that many of the 43 students who disappeared Sept. 26 from Iguala had been held near this location. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A forensic examiner walks along a garbage-strewn hillside above a ravine where examiners are searching for human remains in densely forested mountains outside Cocula, Guerrero state, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. Suspects arrested this week told prosecutors that many of the 43 students who disappeared Sept. 26 from the town of Iguala had been held near this location. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, Pool)
A soldier stands guard around a site where forensic examiners are searching for human remains in the densely forested mountains outside Cocula, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. Suspects arrested this week told prosecutors that many of the 43 students who disappeared Sept. 26 from Iguala had been held near this location. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
People march holding posters with the images of missing students that read in Spanish "They took them alive," to protest the disappearance of 43 students from the Isidro Burgos rural teachers college in Mexico City, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. Tens of thousands marched in Mexico City's main avenue demanding the return of the missing students. The Mexican government says it still does not know what happened to the young people after they were rounded up by local police in Iguala, a town in southern Mexico, and allegedly handed over to gunmen from a drug cartel Sept. 26, even though authorities have arrested 50 people allegedly involved. They include police officers and alleged members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Attorney's General office's special agents custody some of the 27 municipal policemen involved in an attack against students in Iguala last month and now presented to the press in Mexico City on October 17, 2014. More than 1,200 security forces are looking for the college students around Iguala, where the aspiring teachers were last seen on September 26, when local police allegedly attacked them and turned them over to the Guerreros Unidos gang. AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Attorney's General office's special agents custody some of the 27 municipal policemen involved in an attack against students in Iguala last month and now presented to the press in Mexico City on October 17, 2014. More than 1,200 security forces are looking for the college students around Iguala, where the aspiring teachers were last seen on September 26, when local police allegedly attacked them and turned them over to the Guerreros Unidos gang. AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) -- Authorities are investigating a possible police connection to the killing of three U.S. citizens visiting their father in Mexico who were found shot to death along with a Mexican friend more than two weeks after going missing.

Parents of the three siblings, whose bodies were identified Thursday, have said witnesses reported they were seized by men dressed in police gear calling themselves "Hercules," a tactical security unit in the violent border city of Matamoros heavily racked by cartel infighting. Nine of the unit's 40 officers are being questioned, Tamaulipas state Attorney General Ismael Quintanilla Acosta said.

It would be the third recent case of alleged abuse and killings by Mexican security forces and the first to involve Americans.

The country already is engulfed in the case of 43 teachers college students missing in southern Guerrero state at the hands of a mayor and police working with a drug cartel. Fifty-six people are under arrest, including dozens of police officers. In June, soldiers killed 22 suspected gang members in Mexico state, then altered the scene and intimidated witnesses to hide the fact that most of the dead were executed after they surrendered, a National Commission on Human Rights report said last week. Three soldiers face murder charges.

"We will apply the full force of the law and zero tolerance," Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantu said, lamenting the death of the three Americans and a Mexican citizen, even though their identities had yet to be confirmed by DNA.

Presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez declined comment when asked about the newest case. The U.S. Embassy said it was aware of the reports but had no information to share "due to privacy considerations."

The father of the three Americans, Pedro Alvarado, identified his children from photographs of the bodies showing tattoos, Quintanilla told Radio Formula. Clothing found with the bodies also matched that of Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26, and brothers, Alex, 22, and Jose Angel, 21, who disappeared Oct. 13 along with Jose Guadalupe Castaneda Benitez, Erica Alvarado's 32-year-old boyfriend.

Each was shot in the head and the bodies were burned, most likely from lying in the hot sun for so long, Quintanilla said.

Tamaulipas authorities said it could take 24 to 48 hours for DNA tests to confirm that the bodies were those of the Alvarado siblings, who were last seen in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros, about to return home to Progreso, Texas.

"They were good kids," said an aunt, Nohemi Gonzalez. "I don't know why they did that to them."

The three siblings shared their mother's modest brick home on a quiet street in Progreso less than three miles from the border. Erica, who has four children between the ages of 3 and 9, had been scheduled to begin studying to become a nursing assistant next month.

Brothers Jose Angel and Alex had been scheduled to make their annual pilgrimage to Missouri as migrant farm workers more than a week ago, Gonzalez said. When they weren't on the road, they divided their time between their mother's house in Texas and their father's Mexico.

Officials have not commented on the events that led up to the disappearances, but the families' informal inquiries produced this version:

On Sunday, Oct. 12, Erica drove her black Jeep Cherokee across the border to El Control. She dropped it at her father's house and went to visit with her boyfriend.

Her mother, Raquel Alvarado, had told her to be back in Progreso by early Monday morning, because Raquel had to work and Erica's kids had to get to school. Raquel put the kids to bed Sunday night and awoke at 4 a.m. to see Erica was not home. She began calling her daughter's cellphone, but got no answer. At that point, it appears Erica was fine.

She continued calling through the morning of Oct. 13. "I'm always worried about her when she goes over there," the mother said.

Around 1 p.m., she reached her former husband. He told her Erica had called her brothers and asked them to bring her Jeep to a roadside restaurant under a bridge near El Control where she was eating with her boyfriend. One brother drove her Jeep and the other drove his Chevrolet Tahoe because they all planned to return to Progreso from there.

According to Raquel Alvarado, witnesses told family members that the brothers arrived around 12:30 p.m. and saw members of the police unit called Hercules pushing their sister and Castaneda and hitting Erica. When the brothers intervened, the police took all four of them, along with their vehicles. The witnesses said the armed men identified themselves as members of the Hercules unit and warned against intervening.

A September news release from the city about Hercules showed an armed force in fatigues and face paint. Mayor Leticia Salazar officially introduced Hercules as a group with particular skills to confront crime in high-risk operations. They have passed background checks and are trained by the state, Quintanilla said.

Neither Salazar nor the city's spokeswoman returned messages seeking comment Thursday.

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