LAKE CITY, SC (AP) — Zindell Brown, 28, of Lake City, South Carolina, was preparing for his first cross-country trip and had more than nerves. Perhaps it was a premonition about the trip he and some friends would take to Mexico.
“He said, ‘There’s something, it just doesn’t feel right,'” his older sister Zalandria Brown told The Associated Press over the phone. “(That was) the last thing we talked about.”
Jumping into protection mode for the man so close to her she called him her “hipbone,” Brown urged her brother not to make the trip scheduled earlier this month. However, as someone known for helping others, Brown wasn’t surprised when her sibling shrugged off the feeling and offered to drive his group of childhood friends on a road trip to Mexico, where one of them was due to have cosmetic surgery and a other was planning to celebrate his birthday. 34th birthday.
The inside of a rented white van would be the last place Brown would see her little brother alive. Sometime during the nearly 22-hour journey from South Carolina to Brownsville, Texas, Brown watched a video posted online of Zindell smiling into the camera.
But in Mexico, the group was attacked. Around noon, a vehicle crashed into the group’s van. Several men wearing tactical vests and assault rifles arrived in another vehicle and surrounded them, according to Mexican police reports.
Two members of the group – Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard – were shot and killed. Eric Williams was shot in the leg and he and fellow survivor Latavia McGee were loaded into a pickup truck, according to a video posted on social media. The violence was blamed on the Gulf Cartel, a drug ring linked to murders and kidnappings in Matamoros, a city of half a million that has long been a stronghold of the powerful cartel. The group ostensibly apologized for the killings in a letter obtained by the Associated Press from a Mexican law enforcement official.
Even before watching footage of the ambush that quickly circulated online, Zalandria Brown said she started to get the sickening feeling that her brother was gone.
“That was the other part of my soul,” she said.
She called her brother the male version of herself. Gone is her hunting partner and the ‘cool uncle’ that her two (teenage) sons looked up to.
“He always put a smile on everyone’s face. He was always joking and playing and laughing,” she said.
In the days leading up to the trip, Zindell spent time at home playing video games – a break from the other work his hands were known for: carpentry. Zindell learned woodworking skills from his father, who wanted to train him in the family craft.
“He had so many skills. He could do carpentry,” she said, adding: “He did roofing. He could do anything you could think of when it came to building a house. My dad trained him to do all of that .
Although she lives in Florence, South Carolina, Brown said she, her brother, Woodard and McGee all grew up in humble Lake City. By mid-week, the town of less than 6,000 seemed consumed by the grim loss.
At the local library on Main Street, patrons exchanged condolences among themselves, while a few blocks away at the police station, a stranger pressed a bouquet of purple flowers into Shaeed’s father’s arms.
Shaeed Woodard’s 34th birthday would have been celebrated this month, according to his father, James Woodard. Shaeed’s cousin Latavia McGee had surprised him with the road trip as a birthday excursion, James Woodard said. Shaeed and Zindell were close; Brown said she also considered him a brother.
On the night of March 5, Brown would receive a phone call that confirmed her worst fears. A friend of the family called to say that the doctor’s office they were going to in Mexico called to say McGee was late and thought he had been kidnapped. McGee said every day since then has seemed like a “nightmare” for her surviving two siblings and parents. Neither family said it would accept the cartel’s apology for the violent kidnappings. “It’s just crazy to see your own child taken from you in such a way, in such a violent way,” Woodard said. “He didn’t deserve it because he was a sweetheart. He had a big heart.”