Initial accounts from local authorities and relatives of the victims differed on several key points, but it appears that the three women were travelling in three SUVs with their children when they were attacked on a remote and unpaved mountain road at around 1pm on Monday.
According to relatives, the three vehicles were travelling from the community of La Mora, Sonora toward Pancho Villa, in Chihuahua. They set out together, but one of them later fell behind because of a flat tire.
That car was the first to be found shot up and burnt out with the bodies of one woman – later identified as Rhonita LeBarón – her twin babies and two other small children dead inside.A report from the AP also relates:
The other two vehicles, driven by Dawna and Christina Langford, were found about 18km (11 miles) further along the road at the top of a hill.
According to a statement released by the Sonora attorney general’s office, a woman and two children were found dead in one of the cars. The third woman was found dead a few meters from the third vehicle.
Julián LeBarón, a relative of the victims, said that he reached the scene with the security forces hours later, and opened the door of one of the vehicles to find a baby still inside completely unharmed.
In an interview with Aristegui Noticias, he said it appeared most of the rest of the surviving children had walked 15km (9.3 miles) back to La Mora where they alerted the authorities.
“We are very upset,” he said. “It is just impossible to understand why they would attack cars full of women and children in two separate incidents.”
Another relative, Kendra Miller, said in a Facebook post that the first news of the massacre arrived in La Mora when a 13-year-old survivor got there hours later.
“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Dawna’s son Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” she wrote. “When he took too long to return, his nine-year-old sister left the remaining five to try again.”
Miller wrote that Devin’s news prompted an armed search party from the community that was soon aborted because of continual shooting in the area. She said the hidden children were not found until 7.30pm, more than six hours after the ambush. The nine-year-old was found lost in the mountains later.
The killers were apparently members of the Juarez drug cartel and its armed wing, La Linea — “The Line” — whose gunmen had entered Sinaloa cartel territory and set up an armed outpost on a hilltop and an ambush further up the road. The Juarez cartel apparently wanted to send a message that it controlled the road into Chihuahua. It was this invasion force that the American mothers and their three vehicles drove into.One heavily armed suspect has been arrested.
It was only after the first vehicle was shot up and set afire that 50 or 60 Sinaloa cartel gunmen showed up to see what had happened.
Mexican authorities contend that the ambush was probably the result of the attackers mistaking the convoy as being members of a rival cartel. I personally believe that is unlikely, particularly once the attackers approached the vehicles and could see that the people inside were American women and children. Moreover, we know that the LeBarón family has a history of conflict with the cartels.
CBS News reports:
The LeBaron family, whose relatives were victims in the ambush in Mexico on Monday, have a history in the country that dates back generations, and includes encounters with drug cartels. The family is part of a group of fundamentalist Mormons who migrated to northern Mexico after polygamy was outlawed in the United States in the 1800's.
It's believed the LeBaron family arrived in the early 20th century, CBS News correspondent Janet Shamlian reports. Many of the family members are dual citizens, and speak both English and Spanish.
Even as the practice of polygamy faded, the family continued to call Mexico home, despite threats of violence. A 2012 documentary by Vice Media, "The Mexican Mormon War," focused on the violent history of the Mexican drug cartels toward the LeBarons over the family's apparent wealth and resources.
"We've had a few run-ins with them," said Brent LeBaron, a family spokesperson. "Don't like to say too much about them."
Those run-ins date back to at least 2009, when 16-year-old Eric LeBaron was kidnapped and held by a Mexican cartel on a $1 million ransom. The family says they refused to pay it, and he was eventually released.
But the violence didn't end, and a few months later an angry drug lord allegedly ordered a hit on Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist in the family. He and his brother-in-law were killed.
The victims in Monday's attack were part of the extended LeBaron family. A relative said they lived in La Mora, a small community with a population of less than 1,000 dual U.S.-Mexican citizens. The ranch is located in a desert valley in Sonora, Mexico, about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.Anonymous Conservative has linked to an article out of Mexico that explains a bit of the history of the family, and noted that the family had armed itself to protect against the cartels. (See Update, below).
So what is the takeaway from a prepper/survivalist perspective? FerFal release a video yesterday concerning the incident. Although I don't think he understood that the LeBarón family had lived in the area for generations--he seems to think that they may have moved to Mexico for the isolation and lower cost of living--he nevertheless makes good points about the dangers of living in a third-world country and trying to survive in a remote retreat.
"Mexico Massacre: 9 American Mormons, Women an Children, Killed"--Modern Survivalist (14 min.)
The basic points is that crime in many third-world nations, and especially throughout Latin America, is so bad that your life will be one of being "imprisoned" in walled compounds protected by armed guards. Also, there is no way for a group to fight the cartels: the cartels are too numerous, too well armed, and are savage and animal-like in their capacity for violence. You, as a prepper/survivalist, cannot match them. You may prevail on one or two encounters, but you cannot securely live in an area with the cartels over the long run.
There are other implications and lessons from all of this that pertain to our national security. A couple weeks ago, The Federalist published an article by Sumantra Maitra asking the question, "Forget Syria. What Is The U.S. Doing About The Failed State On Its Southern Border?" I took the article as being a public expression of a shift in neo-con perspective on where to conduct the next set of endless wars. But the author makes some good points, including that Mexico has all the hallmarks of a failed state, and everything that comes with that:
While the U.S. Senate is busy debating whether American troops should be the Kurds’ bodyguards against NATO ally Turkey, which is thousands of miles away in a region with no geostrategic interest to the United States, there is a collapsing country within miles from Texas and California. Its government is incapable of overpowering paramilitary forces and militias, who control the landmass and will help anyone with money.Thus, when we see a headline like this--"Arizona border sheriff says Mexican drug cartels pose ISIS-like threat as cops fear group behind massacre could also be operating in Utah"--we should probably pay attention.
Policing, counter-espionage, counter-intelligence, counter-human trafficking, counter-migration, and counter-terrorism, all the functions the American government depends on the Mexican government for, are now practically compromised. Tomorrow, if a terror cell starts working in the region, the Mexican government will be hamstrung about doing anything.
Not that there needs to be an Islamist terror cell. Mexican cartels are no less brutal than ISIS and are increasingly bold enough to cross the border, with sleeping cells in cities of United States ready for mayhem when the time comes. Is the U.S. government aware of who and what gangs work where and how much power they have?
The warning signs were there for a long time. In 2010 it was warned that Mexico was risking becoming a failed state. President Obama instead focused on democratizing the Middle East after the Arab Spring. In 2015, academics warned that decapitation strikes in different cartels risked more splintering and anarchy. In 2016, the same argument was repeated, this time with a warning about the rise of militias and parallel administrations in parts of Mexico.
Update: The Daily Beast has a more extensive report on the history between the LeBarón clan and the cartels titled, "The Mexican Cartels vs. a Mormon Sect: Behind the Horrific Massacre of American Moms and Children." As to the issue of whether the caravan was mistaken for a rival cartel, it has this to report:
But family of the victims, including a legislator who is a high-profile peace activist in Mexico, have disputed such official accounts. “This was no crossfire,” said Alex Le Baron, an elected deputy to the Chihuahua state legislature, during an interview on Mexico’s W Radio. Referring to the accounts of the incident provided by the children who survived, Le Baron called it an “ambush.”The article adds:
“It couldn’t have been a mistake,” he said. “This is terrorism, plain and simple.”
... Over the past decade, however, leading members of the LeBaron community have distinguished themselves as outspoken opponents to the growth of cartel-related kidnappings, extortion and killings in Mexico.
In 2009, the LeBaron community made worldwide news with a harrowing stand against a cartel in Chihuahua, not far from the U.S. border. A 16-year-old member of the community named Erick LeBaron was kidnapped and held for a $1 million ransom by a local drug cartel. The community assembled and decided not to pay the ransom but to wage a public campaign to pressure the government to take action and secure Erick’s release. Miraculously, the teen was returned without a cent changing hands.
If, by standing up to narcos, the LeBarons had briefly inspired Mexico with hope, their refusal to submit also appeared to infuriate a local cartel leader. Jose “El Rikin” Escajeda, who lived scarcely eight miles away from the prosperous settlement of apple, pecan, and chili farms known as Colonia LeBaron, ordered a team of armed assailants to take revenge.
Two months after the dramatic kidnap standoff, Benjamin LeBaron, who was Erick’s older brother and a leader of the protest campaign that helped secure his release, was abducted from his home in Colonia LeBaron along with his brother-in-law Luis Carlos Widmar, who had come to help.
Both men were shot and their bodies found at the side of the road a short distance from the community with a message attached linking the killings to the family’s public calls for increased policing in the area. (Escajeda, the alleged ringleader of a drug-trafficking family that runs a 120-mile smuggling corridor along Mexico’s border with Texas, was soon arrested for the murders.)* * *
In the aftermath of the 2009 murders, the LeBarons famously took up arms in violation of Mexican law and adopted military-style tactics to protect their community. Alex LeBaron, a brother of Benjamin’s who is a well-known state legislator in Chihuahua, told a news crew from Vice in 2012 that smuggling guns from the United States was “the only way to defend yourself.” (There is no indication that the women and children murdered on Monday were armed or protected by anyone with guns.)
Julián LeBaron, Benjamin and Alex’s brother, is a well-known activist who toured the country in 2011 with the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a group headed by the Mexican poet Javier Sicilia that publicly rejected the climate of lawlessness and fear fostered by organized crime.
The LeBarons have argued against laws in Mexico that make it difficult for citizens to obtain guns for self-defense. Eventually the Mexican government allowed them to set up armed citizens patrols. Federal authorities later set up a base and patrol inside the orderly community of Santa Fe-style houses that includes schools, parks, a basketball court, and a golf course.