Three men arrested in connection with the massacre of nine members of the extended LeBarón family are scapegoats, claim relatives of two of the suspects.
The armed forces, Federal Police, National Guard and intelligence agents detained Héctor Mario Hernández, his brother Luis Manuel Hernández and another man identified only as Cipriano N. on Sunday morning in Janos, a Chihuahua municipality that borders the United States.
Héctor Mario was identified by the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) as “El Mayo,” suspected plaza chief in Janos of La Línea, a criminal gang with links to the Juárez Cartel.
Authorities said shortly after the attack that the criminal group may have mistaken the vehicles in which the victims were traveling as those of a Sinaloa Cartel splinter cell called Los Salazar.
Héctor Mario’s niece rejected the accusation that her uncle and father were responsible for the November 4 ambush in Bavispe, Sonora, that left three women and six children dead.
“They’re both scapegoats,” Estefanía Hernández, daughter of Luis Manuel, told the newspaper Reforma.
She said that her aunt spoke with her brothers at FGR facilities in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, and that Héctor Mario told her that he was being pressured to confess that he was a criminal leader in exchange for the release of Luis Manuel.
The fact that the people of Janos are supporting her father and uncle is evidence of their innocence, Hernández told Reforma. She asserted that the security forces who arrested the two men acted in a violent manner and planted drugs on them.
In a social media post, Hernández described the massacre of the women and children, members of a fundamentalist Mormon community that has lived in northern Mexico for decades, as “a real shame” and “a great tragedy” and said that she and the rest of her family want justice.
“. . . We all hope that what is necessary to arrest the culprits is done. But I don’t think it’s fair that people who had nothing to do with the crime are being directly blamed just because the relevant [security] forces have to provide results of their ‘hard’ work,” she wrote.
A brother-in-law of Héctor Mario and Luis Manuel also claimed that they, and the third man who was detained, were wrongfully arrested.
“We don’t have problems with the LeBarón family, we want justice to be done but not with scapegoats,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
The unidentified relative said that Luis Manuel is the caregiver for his ill 73-year-old father and that Héctor Mario is a rancher.
“Luis hasn’t left the house for almost two years . . . Héctor works with his cattle,” he said. “Neither has a criminal record, they’ve never been in prison.”
The brother-in-law said that when Luis Manuel and Héctor Mario were arrested, security forces broke a window of their father’s home and threw a package at the former that allegedly contained drugs.
“They told him, ‘this is yours.’ The package supposedly had crystal [methamphetamine],” he said.
The third man arrested is a hunter, the brother-in-law said, adding that he legally possessed the weapons that were taken from him.
“In the case of Cipriano, we know that they took weapons from him but that man is a hunter and the weapons they took from him were in order . . .” he said.
The relative said that family members will continue to protest to demand the return of the three men from Mexico City, where they were transferred after their arrest.
“We’re going to carry out blockades and we’ll close highways. We don’t have the resources to go to Mexico City, we want them to be returned to so that we can defend them,” he said.
In a subsequent radio interview, Janos Mayor Sebastian Efraín Pineda confirmed the claims made by the brother-in-law, adding that he personally knows the three men who were arrested.
“I corroborate what their brother-in-law said. Cipriano belongs to a hunting group . . . Luis looks after his father and Mayo works with his cows,” he said. “As far as I know . . .they’re not criminal leaders,” the mayor added.
“I believe that what we have to do is support the families [of the arrested men], see how we can help them. Of course, I don’t agree with any crime. If they turn out to be guilty, they’ll receive their punishment but if they’re innocent, the least they can do is release them because they have no criminal record,” Pineda said.
The mayor also said that federal authorities didn’t contact him either before or after the operation to detain the three suspects.
Their arrests followed the detention of another suspect in Mexico City last month. Military authorities said the man detained in November provided information about the alleged perpetrators of the crime that led to the latest arrests.
After a meeting with López Obrador on Monday, members of the LeBarón family said that they were happy with the progress that has been made in the investigation.
The president said on Wednesday that the meeting was respectful and that the government is committed to “clarifying the facts” about last month’s ambush and ensuring that justice is served.