‘Premeditated’ attack in family’s massacre
THE deadly ambush on a convoy of families which killed three mothers and six children on a highway in northern Mexico may have been a deliberate hit rather than a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Officers from the Agency of Criminal Investigation for the state of Sonora last night arrested one person and rescued two hostages found bound and gagged in a white ute in the town of Agua Prieta.
However, Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said today preliminary investigations revealed the suspect, who was found with four assault rifles, ammunition and an array of bullet proof vehicles, was not involved in the massacre.
Nine members of the LeBaron family, which broke away from the Mormon church in Utah decades ago to form their own fundamentalist cult in the Mexican enclave of La Mora, died in Monday's ambush.
Rhonita Maria Miller, 31, and four of her children including 12-year-old Howard Jacob Miller, Krystal Bellaine Miller, 10; and eight-month-old twins Titus Alvin Miller and Tiana Gricel Miller were found shot dead in a burned out, bullet ridden SUV near the town of Bavispe.
The other victims were Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 31, and Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her two children, 11-year-old Trevor Harvey Langford and two-year-old Rogan Jay Langford, were all shot to death.
Eight children, some hit by gunfire, miraculously survived, including Ms Johnson's seven-month-old daughter Faith and Ms Langford's 13-year-old son Devin, who walked 22km for help as his siblings hid in the bushes.
After Devin failed to return, one of his sisters, nine-year-old McKenzie, left the remaining five siblings and walked for four hours in the dark to get help, according to the BBC. She was later found by rescuers.
Sonora state health authorities said five injured children remain in hospital, their conditions stable.
Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo and US President Donald Trump have suggested the families were caught in the crossfire as two rival cartels shot at each other, or mistook the victims' SUVs for a rival gang's convoy.
But today relatives of the victims rejected those theories, saying they believe the LeBaron family was targeted in a "premeditated" attack to stoke fear in the La Mora community.
"They killed innocent people to teach fear," Adrián LeBaron, the grieving father of Rhonita Miller, who was slain along with four of her children, told CNN Espanol.
Mr LeBaron said an organised crime group issued "a kind of threat" in a series of calls to the community several months ago "but they were not going to bother us anymore and now they shot us with 3 families …"
The region where the massacre took place, between Chihuahua and Sonora, is run by Fransico Arvizu, aka The Jaguar, who is closely affiliated with the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
Chihuahua Attorney General César Peniche told Univision the Jaguars are in a turf war with rival gang La Linea, which is connected to the notorious Juárez cartel commanded by Roberto González Montes.
Mr Peniche said the two groups were constantly fighting over the transportation of drugs in the region, which is remote and mountainous.
Mr LeBaron said his relatives had a long and violent history with the cartels since resettling in the Mexican enclave of Sonora following a split with the Mormon church in Utah decades earlier
In May 2009, Eric LeBaron, 16, was kidnapped by a drug cartel who demanded a ransom of $1million in exchange for his safe return. The family refused to pay and Eric was ultimately released, according to Fox News.
Following that terrifying event, another family member, Benjamin LeBaron and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar Stubbs, founded a vigilante group called SOS Chihuahua to patrol the La Mora community and keep it safe.
Later the same year, Benjamin LeBaron was reportedly kidnapped in the middle of the night by a group who tied his hands and threw him onto a truck. When Mr Stubbs came to his aid, he was beaten and subdued.
The men's bodies were found dumped in a cemetery, a bullet lodged in the back of each man's head.
Several months after the murder, Mexican troops captured the suspected killer, Jose Rodolfo Escajeda.
According to Reuters, Escajeda was considered one of the bloodiest hitmen in the crime-ridden state of Chihuahua and a leader of the powerful Juarez cartel.
"They are isolated events," Mr LeBaron told CNN Espannol. "But these are the bad spirits of bad people wanting control … there is an incredible evil here. I do not know what you call this.
"If they are using us to make a statement, I do not know who it's for. One cartel towards another."
But, Mr LeBaron warned: "We do not give in."