Deadly attack on Mormons on US-Mexico border
Relatives of those killed in the attack on a Mormon family on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border have told CNN the family has seen cartel violence before.
Kendra Lee Miller, whose sister in law Rhonita Maria Miller was killed in the attack, said, “Cartels have taken too many of our family members” and those killed yesterday were “not the first.”
Miller told CNN her family has only recently been threatened by local cartels over where her family can travel. She added her family did not know about any cartel turf battles.
Another relative, Kenneth Miller, reiterated what Kendra Miller said about the attack and added there was “no crossfire” or “war going on” in which the family were involved. Kenneth Miller does believe a case of mistaken identity could have possibly taken place.
The nine killed Monday were connected to the LeBaron family, which has repeatedly been victim to drug cartel violence in Mexico.
In 2009, Eric LeBaron was kidnapped and returned unharmed a week later, as CNN reported at the time. Afterward, his older brother Benjamin became a nationally known anti-crime activist who pushed the local community to take a stand against violence.
Two months later, Benjamin LeBaron, 32, and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar were beaten and shot to death after armed men stormed their home in Chihuahua. Authorities later arrested the alleged ringleader of a drug trafficking family that ran a smuggling operation on Mexico's border with Texas.
“We have never been involved and we have tried to avoid, ‘living by the sword, die by the sword,'" Kenneth Miller told CNN regarding Monday’s attack. “We have never been involved in the trade, the drug trade, this that and all, we have tried to avoid it and live a private quiet life. And boy, I'll tell you what, boy have we been shocked. We are still in a state of shock.”
The family is now calling on the Mexican government to take a stand and assist in protecting dual citizens in Mexico who need support.
“We need support here as American citizens,” Kendra Miller told CNN. “My community here is a couple hundred strong of dual citizens. We love both our countries, but we spend half our time in the US, or live in the US and visit Mexico. At this point, I don't know what can be done — I just know that something my brother states is- we won't let this go quietly.”
Communication issues are to blame for impeding the response from authorities to the attack which killed nine family members traveling near the US-Mexico border Monday, according to Chihuahua Attorney General César Peniche Espejel.
“Unfortunately communication issues have made it difficult to exchange real-time information,” from personnel deployed in the region, Espejel said at a news conference today regarding the Mexican government’s response to the deadly attack.
He said federal police arrived first to the scene and were tasked with protecting the family. According to Espejel, after local authorities were on scene, members of the National Guard arrived.
Espejel vowed his continued support to find those responsible for the attack. He also deferred future investigation inquiries to the prosecutor’s office in the neighboring state of Sonora.
A family member of those massacred in Mexico said a 13-year-old boy who was unharmed in the attack walked around 14 miles to get help, after hiding his bleeding siblings in the bushes and covering them with branches following the attack.
Relative Kendra Lee Miller posted a description of the attack on Facebook today, in which she said 13-year-old Devin Blake Langford hid his six siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help. Miller also lists the names of the nine family members killed in the attack. Another family member, Tiffany Langford, told CNN that Miller’s account regarding Devin trekking for help is accurate.
Earlier today, CNN spoke with Kendra Lee Miller, who said her brother, Howard Miller and her sister-in-law, Rhonita Maria Miller, were getting ready for Kendra’s wedding that was to take place next week in La Mora, Mexico. Investigators believe three vehicles traveling between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua were ambushed by criminal groups Monday evening. Three women, four small children and two infants were killed. Seven children survived.
Nine American citizens, including two infants, were killed on Monday while traveling in Mexico.
Some details about the fatal attack yesterday near the US-Mexico border are unclear — here's what we know now.
- At least nine dead: Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said three women and six children were killed in the attack. Kendra Lee Miller identified her sister-in-law, Rhonita Marie Miller, 30, and four of Rhonita's seven children — including two 8-month-olds — among the victims. Funerals are expected to take place within the next two days.
- More are injured: Seven children injured from the ambush were flown from Mexico to Douglas, Arizona, for transport to Tucson hospitals, a family member told CNN.
- About the victims: A relative of the victims said the nine were family members and all had dual US-Mexico citizenship. Relatives describe them as being part of a Mormon community of about 3,000 members, living in their own agricultural community. A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the religious group was not affiliated with the LDS.
- Burned and shot: The family was "ambushed" by an "armed group" at around 3:00 p.m. ET, according to Mexico's security minister. Kendra Lee Miller said that when her relatives went to inspect the scene, "all they found was charred remains, ash and bones."
- What the US is saying: The FBI has also offered to assist Mexican authorities in the investigation, and President Trump tweeted that cartels were behind the attack (While the attorney general of the State of Chihuahua said preliminary information indicates they were attacked by criminal groups, officials have not explicitly said a drug cartel was behind the attack).
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tweeted today that he spoke with President Trump about the nine Mormon family members killed in Mexico.
"Through communication with Trump, I send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed on the borders of Chihuahua and Sonora," Obrador tweeted.
Obrador thanked Trump for offering assistance to Mexico, tweeting, "I thanked him for his willingness to support us." He also told Trump that the Mexican government would ensure justice will be done.
Trump tweeted earlier that if Mexico needs help, "the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively."
An official for the Department of Homeland Security spoke out on the attack that killed nine US-Mexico citizens, including two infants and four children, in Mexico yesterday.
“I want to address the horrific events in Mexico from the last 24 hours. The reprehensible killings in northern Mexico of American citizens, including women, children, and infants is a stark example of how these brutal organizations operate on a daily basis. The violence and disregard for human life displayed by these criminal organizations is a barbaric and gruesome as any terrorist organization we see around the globe,” DHS official David Glawe said.
The attorney general of the State of Chihuahua, from which the family had traveled to the state of Sonora, said preliminary information indicates they were attacked by criminal groups. A family member told CNN the victims were attacked “separately but simultaneously by two different groups of same cartel" — but officials have not explicitly said a drug cartel was behind the attack.
The bodies of nine deceased family members have been returned to their family ranch, which is known as La Mora, according to family relative Alex LeBaron.
LeBaron added that vigils have been set up but exact details have not been released. Funerals are expected to take place within the next 48 hours.
The victims were traveling in a caravan of three cars in Mexico when they were attacked. Three mothers and six children were killed, including a woman named Rhonita Marie Miller and four of her seven children.
The family describes themselves as being part of a Mormon community of about 3,000 members.
Yesterday's deadly attack on members of a Mormon community driving near the US-Mexico border is Mexico's latest high-profile massacre. As Mexican authorities grapple with violence in the region, the number of killings keeps soaring.
Last year, Mexico witnessed its highest number of homicides — 33,000. And 2019 is on course to break that record.
Just last month, 13 Mexican police officers were killed in an ambush in the western state of Michoacan.
Now, grief from yesterday's attack has spread across two countries.
Arizona resident Leah Staddon said her relatives were among the victims of Monday's ambush.
"Their vehicle was on fire and there were bullet holes all throughout it," Staddon told CNN affiliate KTVK.
"I think a lot of us are just speechless. It's just horrific," she added.
There are eight survivors from the attack yesterday near the US-Mexico border, according to Mexico's Security Minister.
Alfonso Durazo, the security minister of Mexico, said that there were eight survivors from the attack. He confirmed that nine dual US-Mexican citizens — three mothers and six children — were killed.
It was not immediately clear what condition the survivors are in.