Emily Crane and Adry Torres, Daily Mail, November 5, 2019
President Donald Trump has waged a war on Mexican drug cartels after three American mothers and six children from a Mormon community based in northern Mexico were massacred by cartel gunmen.
The victims, who belonged to the LeBaron family, were ambushed by cartel gunmen eight miles apart on a dirt road in the Mexican border state of Sonora on Monday while traveling in a convoy of three SUVs – one of which had suffered a flat tire.
At the time of the attack, the family members were traveling from the La Mora religious community where they live, which is a decades-old settlement in Sonora state founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. La Mora is about 70 miles south of Douglas in Arizona. Many of the church’s members were born in Mexico and thus have dual citizenship.
Nine of the LeBaron family members were slaughtered in the massacre and one child was still missing, Mexican authorities said. Six children were wounded in the attack and five have since been transferred to hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona.
Mexico’s top security official Alfonso Durazo has blamed cartel gunmen for the gruesome attack and said they may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for rival gangs.
The slaughter of U.S. citizens on Mexican soil quickly became an international issue with Trump on Tuesday vowing to help Mexico wage a war on its drug cartels. He said in a series of tweets that the LeBaron family had gotten caught up between ‘two vicious drug cartels’ but Mexican officials have not confirmed if this was the case.
‘If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,’ Trump tweeted.
‘The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army! This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!’
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded to Trump’s tweet, saying ‘war is the worst thing that can happen’ and said he doesn’t believe lethal force would solve them problem.
‘We declared war, and it didn’t work,’ Lopez Obrador said at a press conference, referring to the policies of previous administrations.’That is not an option.’
Several LeBaron family members, many of whom live in Utah, took to social media following the massacre and described horrific scenes, including how gunmen opened fire on one child running away while others burned to death inside a car that was torched.
Other young children managed to escape and hide by the roadside while one of the mothers was shot in the chest as she put her hands up to surrender. Relatives fear some of the victims may have been raped.
One family member has described how a boy managed to hide his wounded siblings – some less than a year old – in bushes before he ran back to their settlement to get help after his mother was gunned down.
It is not yet clear what motivated the killings. Family members believe it was an attempted kidnapping after one relative reported receiving a phone call hearing screams before they were executed.
Family members say Rhonita Maria LeBaron was driving to Phoenix on Monday with her four children to pick up her husband at the airport following his work trip.
Relatives told DailyMail.com that her car broke down after she blew a tire. She returned to their community to get another car and set off again shortly before the other two mothers left.
Gunmen opened fire and torched her vehicle causing the gas tank to explode. She was killed along with her twin six-month-old babies, Titus and Tiana, her 10-year-old daughter Krystal and 12-year-old son Howard.
A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of her vehicle riddled with bullet holes.
Christina Langford Johnson, 29, Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and two of Dawna’s children, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 3, were killed traveling in the two the other SUVs.
They were en route to see family in the state of Chihuahua for a wedding that was scheduled for Friday, relatives told DailyMail.com.
Family members say Christina saved her seven-month-old baby Faith’s life by throwing the infant to the floor of their SUV as bullets tore through the vehicle. Relatives say the baby had been in the back of the car all day before she was found.
Seven of Dawna’s children survived but suffered multiple gunshot wounds, according to relatives.
Relatives have since taken to social media to share horrific details of the attack, including fears that some of the victims were raped.
They also described how one mother got out of her car during the siege and put her hands up to surrender before being shot in the chest at point blank range.
They described how the injured children were left abandoned on the dirt road by their attackers.
One of Dawna’s sons managed to hide his injured siblings before running to a nearby town for help, according to relatives.
Relatives have since been paying tribute to their slain family members while also praising the heroic efforts of the surviving children.
‘My beautiful niece.. I’m heartbroken I’m so so sorry you became a victim of the evil in this world. You will always be my angel girl. Hold your babies tight. Love you Dawna, Rogan and Trevor eternally #familieswillbetogetherforever,’ Trish Cloes posted on Facebook.
‘The evil might of had a plan on this earth but God has a greater plan for our family.’
She added in a later post: ‘Dawna’s children escaped with bullet holes in several places on their bodies. The children managed to get help under horrible circumstances.
‘The children managed to escape with their baby brother. Baby was harmed with a bullet across his chest and through his arm. (Just got an update) This is a courage act of these innocent children.’
Kenny LeBarón, a cousin of one of the women, told the New York Times: ‘When you know there are babies tied in a car seat that are burning because of some twisted evil that’s in this world. It’s just hard to cope with that.’
Another relative, Lafe LeBaron, said the family had no help from authorities. He said family members from the settlement had risked their own lives by ‘scrambling into the mountains to find our loved ones’ after first finding out about the attacks.
Julian LeBaron, a relative and activist who has denounced criminal groups in the area, described the attack as a ‘massacre’.
His brother, Benjamin LeBaron, founder of a crime-fighting group called SOS Chihuahua, was assassinated in 2009.
When asked who might be responsible, LeBaron said the attack took place in a ‘war zone’, home to drug cartels and ‘thugs’.
The government deployed the army to fight drug trafficking in 2006, but experts blame the so-called ‘drug war’ for the spiraling violence between fragmented cartels and the military, which has lead to more than 250,000 murders.
His family ‘may have been caught in crossfire or targeted by mistake, we don’t know the cause,’ he said, but added that the Mormon community had recently been the target of threats.
The Chihuahua state attorney general, Cesar Augusto Peniche, said the number of victims killed in the attacks remains ‘confused’.
Authorities in Sonora state and the U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The federal Department of Security and Citizens’ Protection said security forces were reinforced with National Guard, army and state police troops in the area following ‘the reports about disappearance and aggression against several people.’
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’.
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’.
‘I don’t know what kind of monsters dare to hurt women and children,’ she wrote.
Senator for Sonora, Lilly Téllez, tweeted: ‘The massacre in Sonora cannot go unpunished.’
Manuel Añorve Baños, another Mexican senator, described the incident ‘a despicable, merciless and savage act’.
It would not be the first time that members of the break-away church had been attacked in northern Mexico, where their forebears settled – often in Chihuahua state – decades ago.
The colony was founded by Alma Dayer LeBaron who moved to Mexico as a breakaway from the Mormon church in 1924 after being excommunicated from the church for practicing polygamy.
When Alma died in 1951, he passed the leadership of the community on to his son Joel LeBaron, whose younger brother Ervil LeBaron, was his second in command.
When the brother’s split, Ervil had Joel killed. He was tried and convicted in Mexico for Joel’s murder in 1974. He died in prison in 1981.
In 2009, Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who was related to those killed in Monday’s attack, was murdered in 2009 in neighboring Chihuahua state.
One former member is George Romney, father of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was born in 1907 in Colonia Dublan in Chihuahua state.