At least nine U.S./Mexican citizens, including six children, were killed Monday in an apparent ambush on a highway in the Mexican border state of Sonora, according to relatives of the victims and local media reports.
The dead included 8-month-old twins, said the family member, Kendra Lee Miller. Eight children survived, some seriously wounded, including a 9-month-old who was shot in the chest and a 4-year-old shot in the back, Miller said.
Willie Jessop, who is related to one victim, told NBC News by phone from Utah that the attack occurred on a motorcade consisting of several families, and that survivors at the scene told him that three cars were shot at and one was set on fire.
“Everyone is in so much shock,” Jessop said, adding that he has been in contact with Mexican federal officials and the FBI. “It’s just unbelievable, and there’s just no way to comprehend it.”
The victims were identified by Kendra Lee Miller as Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29; Dawna Langford, 43; Trevor Langford, 11; and Rogan Langford, 2-and-a-half.
Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30; Howard Miller, 12; Krystal Miller, 10; and the 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana Miller.
Kendra Lee Miller said a 13-year-old, Devin Langford, escaped uninjured and then walked for about 14 miles to La Mora, where the family lived, for help after hiding his wounded siblings in bushes and covering them with branches.
Mckenzie Langford, 9, was grazed in the arm with a bullet, but she also went to look for help after Devin did not come back, Miller said. Mckenzie got lost and walked for hours in the dark before she was found by search parties.
Rhonita Miller was on her way to a shopping trip in Arizona with her family when they were attacked, while the others were going to Chihuahua to visit relatives, Miller said.
La Mora is about 75 miles south of the U.S. border. The community is descended from Mormon settlers, and some members are still practicing members of the church.
There was no immediate indication of who was behind the attack.
El Universal, one of Mexico’s largest newspapers, quoted other relatives as saying that the family is Mormon and the attack appeared to be an organized crime ambush.
The attack comes amid a wave of violence in Mexico in recent weeks, shocking even for a country used to more than a decade of intense drug war brutality. The most notable incident was a military-style cartel assault that forced the government to release a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in October.
In response to Monday’s killings, President Donald Trump tweeted that a “wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed.”
Trump added that the United States was “ready, willing and able” to help Mexico “in cleaning out these monsters,” should Mexico want assistance.
Mexico’s national civil defense agency confirmed that elements of the National Guard, the army and the state police were conducting a search operation in the Bavispe municipality of Sonora, where La Mora is, on Monday night. It provided no other information.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, said in a tweet in Spanish that “the safety of our fellow citizens is our top priority. I am closely following the situation in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua.”
Landau, who earlier in the day said he was on his way to Sonora “for my first visit to the northeast of Mexico,” did not share details of the incident. The U.S. State Department also said it was aware of the reports but had no further comment.
“I don’t know what kind of monsters dare to hurt women and children.”
Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, the governor of Sonora, said on Twitter late Monday that “as a mother,” she was filled with deep pain by “the cowardly acts in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua.”
“I don’t know what kind of monsters dare to hurt women and children,” Pavlovich said.
Senator for Sonora, Lilly Téllez, said on Twitter “the massacre in Sonora cannot go unpunished.”
Manuel Añorve Baños, another Mexican senator, called what happened “a despicable, merciless and savage act” in a tweet, adding: “We demand justice.”
The LeBarón family is a group that after being expelled from the United States, was welcomed in Mexico. Its origins date back to Ervil Morrell LeBaron, who was the leader of a Mormon fundamentalist group.
After their arrival in Mexico, around 1924, they founded the Le Barón neighborhood, located in the northwest area of the state of Chihuahua. In 2009 this community reappeared in the national press for a homicide case.
On May 2, 2009, Érick LeBarón was kidnapped in the Mormon community of Chihuahua. The 16-year-old’s captors demanded a ransom of one million dollars, which caused Benjamin, his older brother, to organize to demand that the authorities be rescued without paying for his release.
On May 9 Erick was released. It was found on a hill in the municipality of Valle de Zaragoza, without injuries. However, on the morning of July 7, 2009, a group of 17 hitmen entered Benjamin’s home, destroying his house and terrorizing his family.
When his brother-in-law Luis went to help him, they took them both, drove them and shot them point-blank four times in the head. The investigations of the ministerial authority revealed that the murders of Benjamin and Luis were reprisals of the kidnappers.
This is how Julián LeBarón’s activism began, leading a movement against kidnapping in Chihuahua. In 2011, moved by the murder of Juan Francisco, the son of Javier Sicilia, Julian decided to join the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity to fight drug-related violence.
In 2012 he announced his separation from the group, considering that the poet Sicily used the movement to become a government interlocutor. “The movement (for Peace) has wanted politicians to solve things for us and I don’t think the government can bring us peace,” Le Barón argued in an interview with the CNN television network.
“ I believe that the government cannot solve the problem, it is impossible, we are 115 million and we have 98% impunity. The only way I think it can be done is for citizens to accept their responsibility, ”he added.
The family is recognized for its incursion in politics and its support for the peasants. According to Chihuahua media, the current community representative is Joel LeBarón, who has special protection from the federal government.
Source: el universal, el pais, nbc, infobae, notimex
The Mazatlan Post