Mexico ambush: Suspects arrested after shootings that killed 9 women and children

David Agren, Special to the USA TODAY Network

MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities say they have detained multiple suspects in the November slayings of nine women and children – a case that attracted cross-border attention and thrust previously isolated fundamentalist communities of northern Mexico into a political firestorm.

In a statement on Sunday, Mexico’s federal prosecutor’s office said judicial and intelligence officials, along with soldiers and national guard troops, carried out a raid earlier in the day at an undisclosed location.

The newspaper El Universal cited sources saying three suspects were arrested just south of the Arizona border in Sonora state near the site of the Nov. 4 attack, which killed three women and six children.

The arrests followed the detention and arraignment of a suspect in November, who provided “fundamental information and evidence."

Mexican media outlets reported the detentions followed the arrest of “Mario H,” alias “El Mayo,” a local leader of the criminal organization known as "La Linea," affiliates of the Juárez cartel. 

Family members responded skeptically to the news, which came less than 24 hours before a scheduled meeting Monday morning with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City. 

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“I would imagine these are low-level people,” Julián LeBaron, a relative of the victims and family spokesman, told USA TODAY after the arrests. “We want to know who gave the order and who is responsible.” 

The prosecutor's statement also mentioned the work of the FBI, whose “contributions will be considered in the investigative actions." U.S. agents are working alongside Mexican investigators.

LeBaron previously told USA TODAY he was skeptical that all the evidence had been accounted for.

“There’s a video that the FBI has of 12 guys dressed in black with helmets, like special forces, coming down the hill, opening fire on my cousin’s vehicle,” he said. “When they got to the vehicle, they got her purse … I don’t think anyone questions the fact that it was targeted.”

Almost a month after the attacks on three carloads of women and children who held dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship, families of the victims continue demanding justice for their slain kin and a stop to the bloodshed south of the border, which has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 Mexicans over the past year and shows few signs of slowing.

Running shootouts on Saturday in the northern state of Coahuila killed 21 people, including four police officers, as hordes of cartel gunmen opened fire on city hall in the municipality of Villa Union, some 40 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas.

The case of the slain women and children has captured attention and caused controversy on both sides of the border – with some relatives in the United States urging President Donald Trump to designate Mexican drug cartels as “terrorist” organizations. 

Trump told Bill O’Reilly last week that he would “absolutely” be designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations — a move the Mexican government rejected as an unnecessary incursion into its sovereignty.

“We recognize … President Trump has offered us help and respect. That’s to say, he was respectful and offered help and at the same time respected our sovereign right to decide with independence,” López Obrador said Sunday to thousands of supporters in central Mexico City, celebrating his first year in office. “The government of Mexico will fulfill its responsibility to do justice.”  

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López Obrador swept into office last year on an agenda of curbing corruption, putting the poor first and calming the country. 

“Hugs, not bullets,” he said often on the stump. 

He’s proved popular: A poll in the newspaper El Financiero pegged his approval rating at 68%, even as the economy has slumped and violence raged. Some 40% of respondents considered security the president’s “biggest failure.”

“Our adversaries will be able to say we showed weakness, but nothing is worth more than people’s lives,” López Obrador said Sunday, referring to soldiers capturing the son of imprisoned cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in October, but releasing him – to spare innocent lives, López Obrador explained at the time — after thugs caused chaos in the city of Culiacán.

“Decreasing violence in the country constitutes the main challenge, but we’re going to pacify Mexico,” López Obrador said. 

As López Obrador rallied his base, members of the LeBaron family led a march in Mexico City to the Revolution monument. Many in attendance wore white, waving signs with acerbic slogans. The middle- and upper-class groups are not prone to protesting. The president has derided them as “fifís” (snobs) and “conservatives.”

“I’m sorry if this offends someone, but my heart is full of pain. My voice trembles with fury. I'm sorry, but I here and say that I don’t care about the economy, nor corruption, nor the (Mexico City) airport” – a project López Obrador controversially canceled at great cost – “nor political colors,” Julian LeBarón told the crowd.

He stressed that his protest wasn’t anti-AMLO, but a call for justice. 

But the family has come under criticism from López Obrador supporters after Trump raised the possibility of naming Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations –something many Mexicans saw suspiciously as a pretext for taking military action. 

The hashtag “LeBaron out of Mexico” had trended on Twitter and one of the country’s best-known priests, Father Alejandro Solalinde, told the family to pick sides – either Mexico or the United States. 

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mexico ambush on LeBaron family: Suspects arrested after shooting