A Thanksgiving weekend deer-hunting trip to Mexico took a terrifying turn for two Texans who say they suddenly found themselves the ones with rifles pointed at them.
Donald Chapman and his nephew, Colby Williams, said the gunmen who appeared before them on Sunday apparently had been part of a convoy of cartel sicarios that rolled into the nearby town of Villa Union the day before.
The sicarios had mounted a surprise attack on the town hall and killed four police officers. But the hitmen got a surprise of their own and found themselves the target of a fierce government response that included Mexican marines and military helicopters.
Photos posted online showed several bullet-riddled and abandoned pick-up trucks bearing the letters C.D.N., for Cartel del Noreste, the Cartel of the Northeast. The occupants not among the 10 sicarios killed in the first hour seem to have fled into the surrounding countryside.
The government pursued the remaining sicarios on into Sunday, killing at least seven more. It appears that’s when a number of the hunted gunmen then encountered the hunting Texans.
Chapman, 62, and Williams, 30, were out on a 10,000-acre ranch they had leased with a single purpose.
“It’s just really good deer hunting,” Williams told The Daily Beast.
As they faced the sicarios, Williams and Chapman also faced the possibility of being as dead as a bagged buck.
But they said that as soon as they obeyed a command to get down on the ground, the Mexicans threw their guns over their shoulders.
The Texans said their captors took their rifles and their cellphones. But that was just a precaution. What they really wanted was Chapman’s pick-up along with Williams’ pick-up, which they had left back at the ranch house.
“They were walking,” Chapman later said. “They were lost.”
They were also hungry and thirsty. The two Texans said they gave them food and water.
“You do those kind of things if you have a weapon at you,” Williams noted.
Another thing you do is get in a car when instructed. By Chapman and Williams’ account, they all rode off in the two vehicles.
“They used us to get where they wanted to be, which was home and their families,” Williams said.
The Texans said their captors treated them surprisingly well.
“They were nice to me, and to be honest with you, did not hurt us in any way,” Williams reported.
Chapman recalled, “Every other word out of their mouth was, ‘No problem, you’ll be OK. We don’t hurt Americans.’”
After 11 hours, the captors had arrived where they wanted to go. They gave the Texans back their cellphones and the rest of their property.
“Everything that had been taken,” Williams said.
But that was not the biggest surprise.
“It seems wild, but they washed our vehicles and put fuel in them,” Williams said.
Chapman recalled that they only washed his nephew’s truck.
“And detailed it,” Chapman told The Daily Beast. “Mine’s still dirty.”
The gunmen had made it back to their families and now they were freeing the Texans to go back to theirs.
Their gas tanks full, the Texans headed straight for the border.
“We got across as soon as possible,” Wiliams said.
Chapman said he checked his phone and saw missed calls and messages from seemingly every law enforcement outfit.
“The FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, all the agencies,” Chapman told The Daily Beast. “Apparently, I was important to be found.”
Reports of their disappearance had already surfaced in the Mexican media and on social media, and their families had seen a report online that they had both been murdered. When Williams and Chapman called home to say they were on their way back, Caller ID was the first signal to their loved ones the two were alive.
“They were excited to see our call,” Williams said with a Texas boy’s understatement.
Nobody from anywhere was ever happier to be returning home. He pulled up to his house in his gleaming, detailed pick-up.
“I’ve got three kids under age 4,” Williams said. “I wanted to enjoy every minute I had with him.”
He understood how easily that news report could have proven true.
“We were just lucky the good Lord above took care of us,” he said. “I’ve been on my knees ever since.”
Williams was asked on Tuesday if he expected to go deer hunting in Mexico again.
“No, sir,” he answered.
Chapman was headed to Kansas in his still-dirty pick-up.
“I’m deer hunting north this time,” he said.