Suspected drug cartel gunmen kill nine members of a family in ambush in Mexico

Daniel Gonzalez and Adrianna Rodriguez, Arizona Republic

MEXICO CITY – Nine members of a family with dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship –three mothers and their young children – were killed in a shooting attack that relatives suspect might have been a case of mistaken identity by Mexican drug cartel gunmen. 

The victims were members of La Mora, a decades-old settlement in Sonora state founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.

The mothers were driving from Bavispe to a wedding in LaBaron, a community in the state of Chihuahua, when their three vehicles loaded with children were hit by gunfire. One of the vehicles exploded in flames.

All of the victims were apparently related to the extended LeBaron family in Chihuahua, whose members have run afoul of the drug traffickers over the years. Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who founded neighborhood patrols against cartels, was killed in 2009 in a watershed moment in Mexico's drug war.

The attack happened Monday near Rancho La Mora on the border between Sonora and Chihuahua in a remote, mountainous area where the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war with another gang. The ambush scene stretched for miles.

 Leah Staddon, who lives in Arizona, said her nephew's wife and her four children died in the blaze. 

SOURCE maps4news.com/©HERE

Staddon originally thought 10 relatives had been killed. Mexican authorities said Tuesday that nine people died and four children were injured in the attack, but Mexico's Public Safety Secretary said six children were injured and another one might be missing. 

Eight children were found alive after escaping from the vehicles and hiding in the brush; several had bullet wounds or other injuries.

Staddon said her brother discovered the smoldering, bullet-ridden vehicle.

"It's devastating," she said. "It's incomprehensible, the evil. I don’t understand how someone could do that." 

Another relative, Julián LeBaron, identified one of the victims on his Facebook page as Rhonita María LeBaron. 

Staddon gave her name as Rhonita Miller, 33. She said Miller's four children who died inside the car were ages 8, 10 and 4-month-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Staddon said she learned later Monday that her sister-in law and her cousin had been killed.