Relative of Americans Killed in Mexico Says Family Was Used as 'Bait' in Drug Cartel War

Steve Helling

A relative of the the nine Americans killed in an ambush in Mexico on Monday is speaking out — and alleging the three women and six children were killed as “bait” in ongoing wars between drug cartels.

Speaking to both Fox News and Reuters, Lafe Langford Jr. alleges his family may have inadvertently gotten in the middle of a years-long violent dispute between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels over routes used to move drugs into the United States.

Langford believes that the victims drove through the disputed region and were killed by one of the cartels. Then, he alleges, one of the vehicles was set ablaze to lure the other side into a fight.

“They shot us up, burned our vehicles to send a smoke signal into the sky,” Langford tells Reuters, alleging that the Juarez cartel’s goal was to draw the Sinaloa gunmen into battle.

The FBI has joined Mexican officials in investigating the brutal killings, but neither U.S. or Mexican authorities have publicly disclosed a motive. On Wednesday, a suspect was arrested in the town of Agua Prieta, right across the border from Douglas, Arizona. On Thursday, authorities announced that the suspect was not connected to the ambush.

No other suspects have been named.

Christina Langford | Go Fund Me

RELATED: 9 U.S. Citizens, Including Twin Babies, Killed in Mexico on Way to Wedding

The victims lived in a Mormon community in northern Mexico, about 100 miles south of the Arizona border. They all left the community at the same time, driving in three separate SUVs. Some of the victims were traveling back to the United States, while others were heading to a neighboring town to attend a wedding.

While the convoy of SUVs was driving on a remote road, they were ambushed and sprayed with gunfire. According to CBS News, the gunmen shot so many bullets that at least one of the SUVs exploded.

A family member, Kendra Lee Miller, tells NBC News that 8-month old twins were killed in the attack. Eight children survived, Miller says. Some of the survivors are seriously wounded, including a 9-month-old who was shot in the chest and a 4-year-old shot in the back.

Rhonita Miller and her children | Go Fund Me

The victims include Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29; Dawna Langford, 43; Trevor Langford, 11; and Rogan Langford, 2. Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30; Howard Miller, 12; Krystal Miller, 10; and the 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana Miller.

“Everyone is in so much shock,” said relative Willie Jessop, according to NBC News. “It’s just unbelievable, and there’s just no way to comprehend it.”

Dawna Langford and her children | Go Fund Me

As of Thursday afternoon, a GoFundMe set up for the family had raised more than $143,000.

Both Mexican and U.S. government officials have vowed to find the people responsible for the murders. “I think this transcends politics and country lines,” Langford tells Fox News. “This is a humanitarian issue.”