Authorities believe that a fierce rivalry between two Mexican drug cartels fighting for control is to blame for the massacre of nine Americans – investigating another fatal shootout between the gangs just hours before the Mormon family was massacred.
The nine victims of the LeBaron family, including three mothers and six children, were shot Monday morning while traveling in three SUVs from the Mormon community where they live in the state of Sonora.
Mexican officials say the family was the victim of a territorial dispute between an arm of the Sinaloa cartel of El Chapo and its rival Juarez cartel.
Authorities believe that the family has been used to lure one side to a firefight.
They specifically blamed the Juarez cartel and its La Linea armed wing for the attack on the LeBaron family.
The area in the state of Sonora where the family was murdered is dominated by foothills of the Sinaloa cartel, the Salazar.
The nine victims of the LeBaron family, including three mothers and six children, were shot on Monday morning while traveling in three SUVs from the Mormon community where they live in the state of Sonora
Rhonita Miller and four of her children – her six-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana, her 10-year-old daughter Krystal and the 12-year-old son Howard – were all killed. Two more mothers, Dawna Langford and Christina Langford Johnson, as well as the sons of Dawna, Trevor, 11 and Rogan, 3, were all also killed
Hours before the attack on the LeBaron family, La Linea sent gunmen to defend the state border after attacks in a nearby town carried out by Salazar.
The shooters of La Linea had entered the cartel area of Sinaloa and had set up an armed outpost on a hilltop and an ambush further down the road.
Top Mexican general, Homero Mendoza, said it resulted in a shootout on Monday around 3:15 PM that ended with the death of a man.
The Juarez cartel apparently wanted to send a message that it controlled the road to Chihuahua, the general said.
It was this invasion force that drove in the American mothers and their three vehicles later on Monday morning.
When the assassins struck, the three LeBaron families spread out at about 9.40 am along a 12-mile road along the border of the two states.
When bullets began to pummel the first car, a white Chevrolet Suburban, Christina Marie Langford Johnson stepped out with her arms waving to show that they were not gang members.
Christina was shot, but her seven-month-old baby, Faith, survived the attack after her mother seemed to have placed her car seat on the floor before she got out.
Gunfire also tore into a second white suburb that Dawna Langford and nine children carried, about a mile back. Dawna and two of her sons, Trevor, 11 and Rogan, 3, were killed.
Soldiers assigned to the National Guard of Mexico stand by a bullet-riddled vehicle of one of the mothers shot in the cartel ambush that killed nine
Emotional members of the LeBaron family look into the burned SUV where some of the nine murdered family members were killed and burned during an ambush of cartel cannons on Monday
Blood-stained belongings are seen in a bullet vehicle in which members of the LeBaron family were traveling when they were shot by cartel members
The police found a baby car seat splashed with blood in a bullet-damaged SUV that was driven by one of the mothers
Destroyed relatives of the killed victims visited the scene of the horrific murders late Tuesday and were sobbing as they watched the burnt-out and bullet-hit SUVs. Authorities were spotted and dragged the burned wreck away from the scene on Wednesday
Images of the vehicle showed more than a dozen bullet holes in the roof and the sides of the vehicle. Inside, blood was smeared over chairs and children's toys.
A third car, 11 miles behind, was shot and burst into flames, killing Rhonita Miller and her four children – her six-month-old twin, Titus and Tiana, her 10-year-old daughter Krystal and 12-year-old son Howard.
Officials had initially said that the cartel-armed men might have mistaken the large SUVs of the group for those of a rival gang.
But relatives of the victims say that their family was deliberately the target and was used as bait to lure one cartel against another.
& # 39; They shot us, burned our vehicles to send a smoke signal into the air & # 39 ;, said a family member who argued that the purpose of the gang was to get the Sinaloa shooters into battle.
It was only after the third vehicle was shot and set on fire that 50 or 60 Sinaloa cartel guns appeared to see what had happened.
Authorities and the family say that heavy firefights in the remote hilly landscape lasted for hours into the night after the attack.
The Sinaloa and Juarez cartels have been at odds for years on lucrative routes in the border region used to move cocaine, heroin and other narcotics to the US.
A heavily armed suspected cartel assassin was arrested Tuesday in a nearby town in a lorry carrying a Barrett 50 caliber rifle and other military weapons.
Criminal investigators initially said the suspect was under investigation for the massacre, but later said preliminary information indicated that he was not linked to the attack.
Heavily armed Mexican authorities guard a caravan of friends and relatives of the LeBaron family on Wednesday when they arrive at the place where their families were murdered
Mexican authorities helped guard the route that led to the place where the family was killed, so their relatives could visit and mourn Wednesday
Soldiers from the National Guard had to keep watch outside the homes of the victims on Wednesday to protect their families
Members of the National Guard are shown on Wednesday as standing guard at the houses of the LeBaron families
& # 39; Americans must hold their guns & # 39 ;: expecting bride whose family was murdered in massacre days before her wedding argued for carrying weapons
A relative of the Mormon family, who was butchered a few days before her wedding in Mexico, argued for carrying weapons because she said defenseless Mexicans cannot fight back against cartel artists.
Kendra Miller, whose sister-in-law was one of the nine LeBaron family members who had been shot in the state of Sonora on Monday, claims that her family was specifically focused on waging war between rival cartels.
In her home in La Mora, where she is getting married next week, Miller said CNN that her family is constantly threatened by the cartels.
Kendra Miller, whose sister-in-law was one of nine LeBaron family members who were shot in Sonora state on Monday, claims that her family was specifically focused on waging war between rival cartels
Miller raised the issue of arms control and urged Americans to fight against weapons bans.
& # 39; I don't know where exactly you are (idea of) to take the weapons in America, but I say fighting for those weapons, & # 39; she said.
& # 39; These things happen here in Mexico because people cannot protect themselves because they are not allowed by law to possess these weapons.
& # 39; So because the government is not doing their work of protection as they should, these cartels can only do damage and leave people defenseless.
& # 39; So I say, hold your weapons, people. & # 39;
She said that the issue of security does not only affect her family and is part of a national problem.
& # 39; What is happening here is that the Mexican people are being suppressed. They are abused by these cartels and live in fear of their lives, & Miller said.
& # 39; We cannot safely drive the public highway. We are threatened that we cannot even take part of the public road, otherwise bad things will happen to us.
& # 39; So many people are not protected as they should be. & # 39;
The moment they were attacked, the mothers rode in separate vehicles with their children from the La Mora religious community where they live. It is a decade-old settlement in the state of Sonora, founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Eight children, some only babies, survived the ambush.
The surviving children not only escaped the gunmen of the drug cartel who murdered their mother, but managed to hide in the brush for hours until help arrived.
The five injured children were seriously injured so that Mexican authorities flew them to the border with a military helicopter to receive hospital care in the United States.
Three other children who are not injured take care of family members in La Mora.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, gripping and heroic details of the attack emerged, including how Dawna & # 39; s fast-thinking 13-year-old son Devin covered his wounded siblings to hide them before he walked 13 miles to get help from family members back in La Mora.
Relatives say he reached the community six hours later. Family members warned the authorities before arming themselves with weapons to search for the injured children.
Christina is also credited with saving the lives of her children after putting her seven-month-old baby Faith on the floor of her suburbs and stepping out of the vehicle, waving her arms to show the shooters that she was no threat.
She may have been removed from the vehicle to divert their attention because her bullet-ridden body was found about 15 meters away from the SUV.
The baby was injured and still found in her car seat in the back seat of the SUV when family members arrived on the scene hours later. Since then she has been reunited with her father Tyler Johnson.
What the children have experienced in the remote, mountainous area of the state of Sonora is almost indescribable.
Kendra Miller, a family member, said in a shooting report that Devin Langford, 13, was one of the few non-injured young people and quickly took the lead and eventually returned to La Mora for help.
"Seeing his mother and brothers shot, Devin hid his six other brothers and sisters in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help," the report said.
& # 39; When it took too long to return, his 9-year-old sister left the remaining five to try again. & # 39;
That girl, Mckenzie Rayne Langford, walked for hours in the dark before being found several hours after the other kids were saved. She was reported missing for a while.
All in all, the children were alone from about 1 p.m. when the ambush began, until about 7.30 p.m. when they were rescued.
Relatives from La Mora tried to reach them for that, but were shot back by gunfire. The area is the site of a cartel grass war.
In recordings of calls between rescuers, they can hear debating whether it was better to risk more lives, or to wait an hour or two for the Mexican army troops to arrive. It was a painful decision.
What they saw when they found the kids was frightening.
Dawna's eight-year-old son, Cody Greyson Langford, was shot in the jaw and leg. Her 14-year-old daughter Kylie was shot in the foot and four-year-old Xander was shot in the back.
Brixon, a nine-month-old, suffered a gunshot wound to the chest. Her son Jake was found wounded in the same place, but it is not clear what his injuries are.
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