Three women and six children belonging to a Mormon family from the United States were killed on Monday when their vehicles were ambushed by presumed cartel gunmen near the Sonora-Chihuahua border.
Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said on Tuesday that members of the LeBarón family were traveling in three Suburban SUVs between Bavispe, Sonora, and Galeana, Chihuahua, when the ambush occurred at about 1:00pm.
The vehicles may have been mistaken by a criminal organization as those of a rival gang, Durazo said. A splinter cell of the Sinaloa Cartel known as Los Salazar is known to operate in the area as is La Línea, which has links to the Juárez Cartel.
A total of 13 children were traveling in the three vehicles but seven managed to escape during the attack.
Julian LeBarón, a cousin of the three women who were killed, said in an interview late Monday that six of the children, some of whom were injured, were found but an eight-year-old girl was still missing.
La voz de un abuelo registrando la masacre de sus nietos y su madre… de la familia LeBarón.
Es el dolor. Es la locura.
Esto es lo urgente, lo importante.
Si no cambia, lo demás sale sobrando.
— Elisa AlanísZurutuza (@elisaalanis) November 5, 2019
He said on Tuesday morning that the girl had been located but offered no other details. Injured children were transferred to Phoenix, Arizona, for treatment, LeBarón said.
He described a scene of complete devastation at the scene of the ambush, telling Milenio Television that two of the children’s bodies had been blown to pieces by bullets. The vehicles were set alight after the attack.
A video posted to social media showed the burnt-out remains of one vehicle that had been riddled with bullets.
“This is for the record,” a man says in an American accent. “Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up.”
Family members told The New York Times said that two of the children killed were twins that were less than a year old.
“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,” said Kenny LeBarón, a cousin of a woman who was driving one of the vehicles.
The other children killed were aged 11, 9, 6 and 4.
The LeBarón family is part of a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon community that has lived in northern Mexico for decades.
Some family members have been outspoken in their condemnation of organized crime and urged the government to confront violent gangs. Julian LeBarón published an article in the Dallas Morning News in 2010 that called for Mexicans to stand up to organized crime.
A year earlier Erick LeBarón was kidnapped but the family refused to pay the ransom demanded. He was eventually released but his brother Benjamin, who spearheaded the campaign for Erick’s release, was later killed. Benjamin’s brother-in-law was also murdered.
Julian LeBarón initially said that yesterday’s ambush was not targeted at his family.
“This wasn’t against us, it was a mistake [or] crossfire, we don’t know the reason. They’re innocent women and children that were traveling on a road that a lot of people travel, they were going to see family. It’s terrible,” he said.
However, LeBarón told The Times that “they intentionally murdered those people,” adding “we don’t know what their motives were.”
He said that one of the women got out of her car and put up her hands but was shot “point blank in the chest.”
LeBarón said the family had not received any specific threats but were aware of general warnings not to travel to Chihuahua, where they often went to buy groceries and fuel.
Sonora Governor Claudia Pavlovich condemned the attack in a Twitter post and described the perpetrators as “monsters.”
“As a mother, I feel anger, revulsion and a profound pain for the cowardly acts in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua . . .” she wrote.
Monday’s killings come after a string of violent attacks in October.
Thirteen state police officers were killed by presumed hitmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in an ambush in Michoacán on October 14.
Later the same week, residents of Culiacán, Sinaloa, were terrorized by a wave of cartel attacks across the city that were triggered by a botched operation to arrest suspected Sinaloa Cartel leader Ovidio Guzmán, son of former drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
At least 13 people were killed including several presumed gunmen, innocent civilians and security force members.
Following the events in Culiacán, the government’s security strategy – which seeks to avoid the use of force whenever possible – has come under intense scrutiny.
Mexico is on track to record its most violent year on record but President López Obrador remains committed to pursuing a non-confrontational approach to combating organized crime.
The murder of innocent women and children in broad daylight will further increase pressure on the government to change its approach.
United States President Donald Trump lamented Monday’s attack on Twitter Tuesday morning and said the U.S. stands ready to help Mexico combat the nation’s notoriously violent drug cartels.
“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!” he wrote.
Speaking at his morning press conference, President López Obrador ruled out any possibility that Mexico would accept the assistance of United States security forces to go to war against cartels.
“It’s a categorical no. Of course, [yesterday’s attack] is painful and of course we wish it didn’t happen but we think that riddling [criminals with bullets], killing with the use of force . . . doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.
“We have to act independently in accordance with our constitution. I’m going to speak to President Trump to thank him for his support,” López Obrador added, explaining that some further security cooperation could be possible but stressing that Mexico doesn’t need “agents of another country.”