Mormon family slaying: First funerals held for 9 relatives killed in northern Mexico

Mourners gathered in Mexico on Thursday for the first funeral for victims of a drug-cartel ambush that left nine American women and children dead earlier this week.

Relatives told Reuters the people slain belonged to the LeBaron family and were members of a break-away Mormon church that settled decades earlier in northern Mexico. The country's security secretary, Alfonso Durazo, said the victims included three women and six children.

Here are the latest updates:

Update 2:55 p.m. EST Nov. 7: Mourners gathered for a funeral Thursday in La Mora, a Mexican hamlet of about 300 people who consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. CBS News reported at least 1,000 visitors were expected to bunk in La Mora for the funeral.

According to The Associated Press, three people were buried Thursday in the rocky soil of La Mora's small cemetery: Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2. Five of Langford's other children were also wounded in the attack, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The other slain victims, including four other children and two women, were excepted to be buried later in Colonia LeBaron, the AP reported.

Authorities continued to search Thursday for the people behind the attack, which happened Monday on a dirt road in northern Mexico. Members of the LeBaron family were traveling in large SUVs which officials said might have led the attackers to believe they were members of a rival gang. The Juarez drug cartel is fighting a vicious turf war against a faction of the Sinaloa cartel in the area.

Update 7:30 p.m. EST Nov. 6: Mexican officials say a suspect who was arrested in the border city of Agua Prieta with assault rifles was not involved in the killing of three American women and six children.

Alfonso Durazo, a public security official, said Wednesday that preliminary information indicates that the suspect who was detained Tuesday is not linked to the attack.

Criminal investigators in northern Mexico earlier said the suspect was under investigation for a possible connection to the killings.

Update 10:30 a.m. EST Nov. 6: Cesar Peniche Espejel, the attorney general for the state of Chihuahua, confirmed the arrest of a suspect in the LeBaron family killings in an interview Tuesday on Mexico's Imagen Radio, CNN reported.

He declined to provide further details about the suspect, though he told Imagen Radio he believes the Los Jaguares cartel, described by CNN as an off-shoot of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, was behind the attack.

"We are waiting for some more intelligence in order to issue an official statement," he said, according to CNN.

It remained unclear Tuesday whether the LeBaron family had been targeted or whether the killings were the result of a case of mistaken identity. Authorities said the three women and six children died Monday while traveling in three separate vehicles on a dirt road between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

"They had stood up to the drug cartels, and they did have certain frictions either with the cartels or with neighboring communities over water rights," Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's former foreign minister, told CNN.

"Their long-standing tensions, and apparently the woman who was driving in the first car that was attacked was an activist. She was someone who was very active in her community, defending her family, her fellow members of the community against cartels, on the issue of water rights."

Mexico's Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said Tuesday the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for rival gangs.

Update 4:38 a.m. EST Nov. 6: Mexican authorities have arrested a suspect in connection with the slaying of three women and six children in northern Mexico, The Associated Press reported early Wednesday.

The Agency for Criminal Investigation in Sonora announced in a Facebook post that the suspect, whose name has not been released, was apprehended in Agua Prieta with two bound, gagged hostages. The suspect also had four assault rifles, ammunition and large vehicles, the post said.

Authorities said eight children survived the attack by possible members of a drug cartel, the AP reported.


Posted by AMIC Sonora on Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Update 11 p.m. EST Nov. 5: 

A relative of the extended family members killed in a drug cartel ambush in northern Mexico says five children who survived the shooting are in stable condition at an Arizona hospital.

Aaron Staddon of Queen Creek, Arizona, said Tuesday that the children are recovering but that one who was shot in the jaw will need extensive plastic surgery.

He said the family expects the children will transported from a Tucson hospital to a Phoenix facility Wednesday.

Update 3:30 p.m. EST Nov. 5: A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared condolences Tuesday for the victims of Monday's deadly attack in northern Mexico.

In a statement obtained by KSL-TV, Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the church, said the LeBaron family was not part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The victims belonged to a break-away Mormon community which settled decades earlier in northern Mexico, Reuters reported.

"We are heartbroken to hear of the tragedy that has touched these families in Mexico," Hawkins said. "Though it is our understanding that they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our love, prayers and sympathies are with them as they mourn and remember their loved ones."

Authorities said three women and six children died Monday after cartel gunmen attacked them on a dirt road between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

Update 1:15 p.m. EST Nov. 5: Taylor Langford, a Utah resident and relative of the LeBaron family, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the victims were attacked on a road they had frequented.

He said Rhonita Miller was on her way to Phoenix to pick up her husband from the airport when the car she was driving was shot until it caught fire. She and four children inside, including twin babies, were burned in the blaze, Langford said.

He told the AP that two cars were next attacked -- one carrying Christina Langford and her baby and the other carrying Dawna Langford and nine children.

Mexican officials confirmed earlier Tuesday that at least three women and six children were confirmed dead in the attack. Authorities believe cartel gunmen were behind the incident.

Langford told KATU that the family previously had interactions with cartels before, but he said the victims were not the intended targets.

"It's a whole new level of cartel violence we've never even imagined down here," he said.

Update 9 a.m. EST Nov. 5: President Donald Trump offered Mexico help battling drug cartels in a series of tweets Tuesday after Mexican officials confirmed at least nine family members had been killed in an attack by cartel gunman.

"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 wrote in the tweets. "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."

Update 8:50 a.m. EST Nov. 5: Mexican officials confirmed Tuesday that at least 3 women and 6 children have been killed in an attack by cartel gunmen in northern Mexico, according to The Associated Press.

Members of the LeBaron family previously told Reuters that nine relatives were killed in the attack, which happened Monday on a dirt road between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora. The victims belonged to a break-away Mormon community which settled decades earlier in northern Mexico, Reuters reported.

Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said Tuesday the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for rival gangs. He said six children were wounded in the attack, and five have been transferred to hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona.

Original report: According to The Associated Press, Rhonita Maria LeBaron and her four children, including 6-month-old twins, of Mexico's Sonora state, were in one of three vehicles traveling from the Mormon community of La Mora when they were killed in an attack by possible members of a drug cartel, family member Julian LeBaron said.

A second family member, Jhon LeBaron, said two other women, including his aunt, also died in the attack, the AP reported. Six children survived, he claimed.

One "burned-out" vehicle was found with human remains – presumably those of Rhonita LeBaron and her children – inside, an unnamed relative told the AP. The other two vehicles are still missing, according to the news agency.

The border states of Sonora and neighboring Chihuahua said they were investigating the incident but did not specify how many people were killed or missing, Reuters reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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