The story that is emerging from the various testimonies is particularly violent, with many aspects still to be clarified, for example the identity of the attackers and their eventual membership in criminal gangs linked to drug trafficking.
The massacre took place Monday morning on the road that connects a small town in the Mexican state of Sonora to the nearby state of Chihuahua, where three women and 14 of their children were headed to meet some family members. The group, consisting of 17 people, was on board three SUVs when it was attacked at two different points in the journey.
According to the reconstructions done so far, the first SUV was attacked at 9.40 am local time by a group of armed men whose identity and membership are still unknown: all five people on board – Rhonita Miller, 30, and her four children – they were killed on the spot, and the car burned. The other two cars were attacked around 11 am local time 18 kilometers away. Lafe Langford, a relative of some of the victims, told a CNN that the passengers of the second car saw the car in front of them being attacked by a group of armed men: "(The women) started to take the children and try to hide them, and suddenly the bullets fell from the sky. Once the shooting ended, the men came down from the mountain, took the children out of the car and told them to leave. "
The armed men then also attacked the second car.
The surviving children in the second attack, seven brothers, some of whom were injured by bullets, took refuge about 300 meters away from the site of the assault. One of them, Cody, had been wounded in one side and one leg and could not walk, and others had suffered several injuries. The children's mother, Dawna Langford, had been killed, as were two of their brothers, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2.
Devin, one of the surviving eight-year-old children, said he left the brothers in the hideout near the site of the assault and started walking to ask for help. He traveled 23 kilometers until he arrived in Bavispe, the town from which the assaulted cars had left, and sounded the alarm.
The first rescue teams arrived at the site of the first car burned only in the evening, ten hours after the assault, for safety reasons. Rescuers identified the frightened and injured children in the same place indicated by Devin, and found a seven-month-old girl still alive inside one of the attached machines. The only child initially missing, McKenzie Langford, 9, was found alive only several hours later, a few miles away: McKenzie had left to seek help after she saw Devin was slow to return.
That same evening the injured children were transferred to a Mexican hospital, then a helicopter supplied by the army took them to the border with the United States, and from there to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona.
Who carried out the attack?
Officials and family members of the victims believe that the attackers are members of the Mexican drug cartels, even if the reason for the massacre is not clear, he wrote CNN.
Alfonso Durazo, Minister of Security, said the assault could have been made by mistake, as a result of a misidentification of the targets; the same hypothesis was made by Alex LeBaron, a family member, who spoke of an assault by two different groups belonging to the same drug cartel, which would have mistaken the victims for a rival group. The former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, who said he believed that the target of the massacre was precisely the members of the Mormon families, who had long been in a relationship of tension with the cartels, said Kendra Lee Miller, sister-in-law of Rhonita Miller, one of the women killed, "the cartels killed many of our family members".
In recent days, local officials have tried to understand which group or criminal groups carried out the attack. The Mexican state attorney General of Chihuahua, Cesar Peniche Espejel, said he believed those responsible were members of the "Los Jaguares" cartel, which until recently were part of the well-known Sinaloa cartel. Tuesday, he wrote CNN, a US official said the investigations were also focusing on the La Linea cartel. So far the authorities have arrested only one person, who has already been released because he is thought not to be involved in the massacre.
Who are the victims
The first Mormon communities arrived in Mexico in the 1880s, after leaving the United States following the approval of a US law prohibiting polygamy.
The victims of the attack were part of the Mormon community of about 3,000 people who still live in Mexico and who practice a fundamentalist version of Mormonism, which in some cases (few) also includes polygamy: this community is not part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, has long been trying to distance itself from Mormon fundamentalists.
Several victims were called LeBaron, a surname linked to an important Mormon fundamentalist family whose descendants continue to be present both in the state of Chihuahua and Bavispe, in the state of Sonora. Patrick Mason, a historian of Mormonism at the University of Utah, said that "in recent decades the name LeBaron has often been associated with violence". The LeBaron family, in fact, had already reached the national chronicles on several occasions, and was known above all for a series of murders carried out by some of its members in the seventies and eighties both in Mexico and in the United States.
More recently, members of the LeBaron family had been targeting drug cartel violence in Mexico. In 2009 one of them, Eric LeBaron, was kidnapped by a criminal group and released only a week later. His older brother Benjamin soon became a prominent organized crime activist and among other things he convinced local communities to rebel against violence: in July 2009 he was killed along with his brother-in-law, Luis Widmar, during an assault by armed men in his home in the state of Chihuahua.